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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata No. 20 in A major, D959 (1828)
Piano Sonata No. 15 in C major, "Reliquie", D840 (1825)
Jenö Jandö, piano
Recorded 25–27 April 1998 at the Phoenix Studios, Budapest, Hungary
NAXOS 8.554470 [66.03]


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We may think of Schubert as the composer of the "Unfinished", but the B minor symphony was only one of many works he left incomplete at his death. This was a composer of such teeming invention that he was capable of completing two or even three songs on a single day, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find him laying a piece aside almost in mid-page when the fire of inspiration – or a new commission – demanded something else. It’s frustrating, though, how often he then became side-tracked, or forgot or lost interest in the earlier work.

The sonata D840 dates from April 1925 and was never finished. The first two movements were completed and are played here, but the remaining two exist only as fragments. (Some such fragments have been convincingly resurrected and recorded by Martino Tirimo on his EMI set of the complete sonatas.) The two movements of the D840 sonata amount to over twenty-five minutes of music, so this was to be a large-scale work, and both movements are imposing pieces with much of importance to say. Listening without a score one is struck by the typically songlike feel of this music, by its huge melodic span, the themes seemingly growing one from the other with apparently little conflict between them. There is drama in both movements, but contrast is ingeniously woven into the music, and the whole is remarkable in its cohesion. This is a work well worth getting to know, even for those who are allergic to fragments.

The sonata D959 is dated September 1828. Two other sonatas seem to have been completed in this same month, and a letter dated October 2 1828 has the composer trying to promote these works, amongst others, with a view to publication. Six weeks later he was dead. This sonata, too, is a large-scale work, coming in at almost forty minutes. It’s one of those works where the influence of Beethoven is most strongly felt, and enthusiasts of Beethoven’s keyboard works will readily hear this influence at the very beginning, though the second theme is more Schubertian and songful. The second movement is marked by a frequent ostinato figure in the left hand, and by its dramatic middle section. Many will think the scherzo recalls Beethoven again, though only Schubert could be responsible for the finale. It begins with a most beguiling tune, the world it creates totally unsuited, one would have thought, to the finale of a large-scale work. It could have been lifted directly from one of the composer’s songs; a strophic song, perhaps, complete, here, with a wonderful little cadential refrain. We hear and rehear this little melodic tag with a sweet rush of pleasure every time. The final bars of the work bring an echo of the Beethovenian chords with which the sonata began, but is it enough? This finale, can it – does it – carry enough weight to close a forty minute sonata? What long hours of pleasure await us as we try to decide!

Jenö Jandö’s performances here are thoroughly recommendable. His Schubert playing has been characterised elsewhere as seeking to bring out the more Beethovenian aspects of Schubert’s keyboard writing, and on the showing of this disc I think this is fair comment. His view of the pieces tends slightly more toward the dramatic and less toward the lyrical. The first movements of both pieces, for example, demonstrate from time to time a percussive style of playing which does not seem out of place exactly, though significant enough to make me want to draw attention to it. This works better, of course, in these particular works than might be the case in other sonatas. However, both Tirimo – whose EMI set previously mentioned seems, scandalously, to be unavailable at the moment – and Murray Perahia achieve as much drama with less recourse to force, and the difference between Jandö’s bold and forthright "Reliquie" Sonata and that of Mitsuko Uchida is as much as one can conceive of given that they are both playing the same notes.

But this is not the way to listen to this disc, or indeed, to most discs. Schubert’s sonatas can stand any number of different approaches and each and every approach (unless totally wrongheaded, and who’s to decide about that?) has something to tell us about the composer. Jandö’s performances are authoritative and thoughtful; they are individual; and he is more scrupulous in his attention to the detail of the score than many a pianist. He is recorded in an almost church-like acoustic, which will not please everybody, but apart from that there really is no reason for the collector to hesitate.

William Hedley

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