Zeynep Ucbasaran’s 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 …). 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 "soloist’s 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 Brendel’s Vox performance when I reviewed it fairly recently,
finding it aggressive and indulgent. If you didn’t 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 Ucbasaran’s
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.