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Rudolf Serkin (pianist) The Art of Interpretation
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat major D960
Piano Sonata No. 15 in C major D840 Reliquie
Rudolf Serkin (piano)
Recorded in September 1975 in Guilford, Vermont (D960) and in an unspecified location in March 1955 (D840)
SONY CLASSICS 5128742 [69.22]


This is one in a long line of recent Sony Serkin reissues that seem to have been the responsibility of the French wing, co-ordinated by Eric Guillemaud and with notes by the ever high falutin’ André Tubeuf, blessedly remembered from those Référence LPs, who is still churning it out in the old way. As elsewhere in this series we have some late–ish recordings yoked to some early-ish ones. Here a 1955 recording of the unfinished torso of D840, the two-movement Reliquie, is conjoined with D960. The results are seldom less than absorbing though not always compelling.

Serkin was not as slow as Richter in the opening movement of the B flat major but he was certainly expansive. For all this, and despite some rather heavily italicised phrasing, there is something touching, in the deepest sense, in Serkin’s exploration of this movement not least in his repeat of the exposition. He vests phrases with a complex layer of meaning even if, in the end, his tempo is just too extended for me. Here Curzon in his 1970 recording at Snape seems to me to get closer to the music’s heart and at a more apposite tempo. Serkin’s slow movement isn’t especially distended and achieves a certain rugged grandeur, an honest stripping away of inessentials even though there are times, because of his playing, when things maybe seem slower than they are. The Scherzo and the Finale also seem to be freighted with a degree of heaviness that militates against the freedoms and flexibilities that the music ideally requires. Some of the accenting in particular is too onerous.

The earlier 1955 recording was recorded at a lower level and according to the notes this was the first of Schubert’s works that Serkin recorded (not true in a strict sense, as he’d recorded the Fantasia with his father-in-law Adolf Busch in 1931). In 1955 he sounds more lithe and correspondingly more acutely responsive than his later self, even in a torso such as this, binding the rhetoric that much more sharply.

The remastering seems convincing enough in the case of the 1975 recording whilst the earlier one bears the hallmarks of slightly constricted 1955 sound, though certainly not enough to trouble listeners.

Jonathan Woolf



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