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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata in A, D.959 (1828), Wander-Fantasy, D.760 (1822)

Zeynep Ucbasaran (piano)
Location: Abravanel Hall, Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, California
Dates: September 18th-22nd, 2002
EROICA JDT 3108 [61í 37"]
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I reviewed Zeynep Ucbasaranís first disc, devoted to Liszt (EROICA JDT 3092) and noted her musicality and her sound sense of musical structure. I felt she needed to work more at textures, or rather the exact relationship between the various strands of melody, counter-melody and accompaniment.

Maybe after hearing herself on CD she has come to the same conclusion, since in her new Schubert disc she realises the often orchestral textures with a real feeling for the right balance between the different elements, and maintains a limpid tone for all the long singing lines. The actual sound, therefore, is always convincingly Schubertian.

Her natural gifts as an interpreter extend beyond this, however; she has understood that this music is orchestral in its conception and has therefore to be played with the same sort of ongoing rhythm that an orchestra provides in a symphony. It has to be pointed out that solo pianists and chamber/orchestral musicians tend to have rather different concepts of rhythm (in a third category come certain singers who seem to have no rhythm at all and suppose the pianist will cope somehow or other Ö). Since the solo pianist plays alone he is free to stretch the rhythms in the interests of expression; free, but not necessarily right. In the case of a composer who was primarily a pianist, such as Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov or Scriabin, it is arguable that the music has an inbuilt need for this type of "soloistís licence" (but it is also arguable that this should not be taken too far). But when the pianist is working with others then a collective "orchestral rhythm" prevails, an even pacing which can be departed from only by prior agreement or if commanded by a conductor (although chamber groups which work together regularly develop their own collective rhythmic sense). So when the composer is not a solo pianist he is inclined, even when writing for solo piano, to create a type of music which demands "orchestral rhythm". This is absolutely the case with Schubert, whose piano sonatas, which already stretch the "heavenly lengths" to unprecedented extremes, can fall apart if the performer has not grasped that his task is to set up a rhythmic pulse at the beginning which will carry the music inexorably onward.

Compared with interpreters of the "stop-go" school, Ucbasaran might seem to be hardly interpreting at all; in each of the four movements of the mighty A major sonata she establishes a tempo which allows the music to expand and express itself simply and strongly; nothing is exaggerated or pulled out of shape. I would single out the finale in particular as a piece of supremely musical playing; it just flows naturally from her fingers.

I shall now turn myself into a Beckmesser and call attention to a few details which have to be counted against the general excellence. First of all, Ucbasaran has a slight tendency (studio nerves, perhaps?) to tighten the tempi in difficult moments. It would be an exaggeration to say she rushes but one has the uncomfortable feeling that she may be about to do so. Then the music settles down again (bb. 107-111 of the first movement, for example).

Then there is the differentiation between staccato and portato. When a group of notes carries both the staccato dot on each note and also has an overall legato slur, this does not mean a crisp staccato but portato; the notes are left long and separated by means of a caressing wrist movement which is far easier to demonstrate than to describe on paper. We do not hear the change from one to the other between bb. 53 and 54 of the first movement and while Ucbasaran realises that smart staccatos would be horrible in b. 56 and rightly lengthens the notes, she inconsistently gives us smart staccatos in bb. 79-81.

While the Andantino second movement is poignantly sung, and suitably dramatic in the middle section, there remains the fact that the lower bass notes on the first beat of every bar on the first page and the last two are marked staccato and Ucbasaran allows them to reverberate by means of the pedal right through the bar. Really I should have thought this music would sound even more bleakly poignant without any pedal at all; if a touch is required it should be limited to the second quaver of the bar.

However, enough niggling. This is a finely conceived, thoroughly Schubertian-sounding performance which rises to an exceptionally good finale, and the "Wanderer" is perhaps finer still. I did not enjoy Brendelís Vox performance when I reviewed it fairly recently, finding it aggressive and indulgent. If you didnít agree you may find Ucbasaran bland. Personally I rejoice in a performance where the "interpreter" seems to stand aside and let the music take over. From the first bars I felt I could trust the player to deliver the goods and my only slight reservation is that the rhythms in the third movement were sometimes not quite crisp enough. Otherwise a very fine performance indeed.

The recording is rich and full-toned and, as in her Liszt album, Ucbasaran provides notes that are clear and go straight to the point. In an age where you can easily pass for an "original" interpreter by disrupting the musical line and bringing out "different" inner voices, I can only salute pure musicianship such as Ucbasaranís which puts itself at the service of the composer; this is the sort of art which is likely to grow while other supposed phenomena blaze and fall by the wayside. I suspect we will gradually hear more and more from this pianist.

Christopher Howell

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