Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Fantasy in c D760 Wanderer (1822)
Sonata in A minor D537 (1817)
Sonata in A minor D784 (1823)
Ronald Smith (piano)
Recorded Nimbus Studios, June 1986 (Sonatas), St George’s Brandon Hill, Bristol March 2002 (Wanderer Fantasy)
APR 5568 [64.29]

The doyen of British pianists Ronald Smith has reached the age of eighty. His now legendary status as an Alkan exponent has not in any way diminished his status as an intellectually challenging, digitally fluent musician whose unassuming exterior conceals a commanding brilliance. He has always essayed the core repertoire with great acuity and APR’s release brings us a relatively new recording: from March 2002 comes the Wanderer Fantasy and the two Nimbus recorded sonatas from 1986. APR in fact has a number Smith’s discs in print – Alkan, of course, Liszt, Chopin and Beethoven. This Schubert disc is one that delights, moves and, as important, convinces. It convinces because of his sense of structural control and it delights because of his acutely applied tonal variety. There is a probing mind at work here, one that never has recourse to dry academicism but, on the contrary, is constantly alive to musical intricacy, inter relation and meaning.

The earlier of the two Sonatas in A, D537, receives a performance that respects its classical proportions. I particularly like the way Smith immediately conveys the avuncular confidence of the writing in the opening Allegro and equally how he conveys, by the subtlest of musical means, the shifting mood as we move into the more brooding aspect of the second subject. He exaggerates nothing here. Familiar from the posthumous A minor sonata, the skeleton theme of the second movement in this earlier work – much simpler and less adorned than it was to become – receives a performance of daintier elegance. Smith’s fully rounded right hand tone catches its playfulness and animation splendidly. Even more so in the finale he never presses too hard, allowing a kind of naturalness of line to unfold, as it were, of its own accord. But there is as well with all this a specific sense of colouristic drama and of space – he has a delicious sense of timing – that lends the sonata a youthful but all embracing element. The Wanderer was recorded in 2002. Without recourse to over-pedalling but with sure and cogent architectural goals Smith traverses this mountain peak of the literature with undimmed authority. Clarity and drive animate the first movement as well as a sense of crispness and rhythmic acuity. His power of tonal depth is best noted in the Adagio where the sense of mysteriousness and stillness is conveyed with maximum dramatic power. And through to the fugal drive of the Allegro finale Smith’s athleticism, even at eighty or so, and his decisive strength surmount most of the problems in his path. And so with D784 - where he manages to convey the bleakness implicit in the writing with a most remarkable fusion of reserve and projection. The music’s transformative qualities are never overstated in Smith’s performance, rather they are subsumed into the syntax of his musicianship in a way both authoritative and wise; this applies in particular to the Allegro giusto, which bears the weight of the sonata’s theatrical extremes. Smith manages here and indeed in the ultimately tragic finale to keep balanced the binary oppositions Schubert embedded into the sonata. One gets from a performance such as this the impression of a searching mind still youthfully at the service of the music in a way that elevates it still further.

Whilst the Nimbus originated recordings retain that characteristic acoustic the Bristol Wanderer is much more focused and natural in sound. All the performances reflect Ronald Smith’s still formidable credentials as a Schubertian of distinction.

Jonathan Woolf

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