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Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
Piano Sonata No. 5 in Ab, D557 (1817) [11.32]
Piano Sonata No. 7a in Db, D567 (1817) [21.48]
Piano Sonata No. 11 in C, D613/612 (1818) [15.04]
Piano Sonata No. 12 in f, D625/505 (1818) [20.45]
Gottlieb Wallisch, piano
Notes in English and Deutsch.
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK, 5 November 2002
NAXOS 8.557189 [69.09]

Comparison recordings:

Wilhelm Kempff, D.557, D.625 ADD DG 423 496-2

With the exception of Sonata No. 5, all these works are in some way unfinished or incomplete. Only Schubert could write so many interesting "fragments" and few composers inspire so much interest in their miscellany. Actually, even sonata No. 5, although nominally complete as published, suggests, because the key signatures of the existing completed movements seem to present an incomplete cycle of modulations, that Schubert may have intended to add another movement in Ab major. Sonata D.567 only lacks the final page of the final movement, and the necessary notes can be supplied from a later version of the same music. In D.625/505, the harmonisation is missing from bars 201 to 270, but it can reasonably be constructed from similar passages earlier in the movement, not that Schubert wouldn’t have typically enjoyed playing some tricks on us if he’d bothered to write out these bars. That leaves D.613, a two movement sonata both of whose movements are unfinished (and are played so on this recording) to be coupled with D.612 which matches in key signature, thematic material and mood, to form a three movement sonata. Although the pianist just stops playing when Schubert stopped writing, at the end of D.612/a that is masked by an immediate segue into D.613 which is offered as the next movement. At the end of 612/b, the lack of resolution at the end of the written music is inconspicuous enough that I didn’t even notice it listening through the first time, so we are spared the distraction of incomplete music phrases left grotesquely dangling in mid-air.

These are very fine recordings of these works, the difference between this and the genius of Wilhelm Kempff being mostly a sense of a veil, previously unnoticed, being drawn aside allowing a vision into previously unimaginable landscapes, or perhaps starscapes, as the case may be. But Kempff, for all that, is not sylistically the most authentic performer of Schubert, and for that reason many may either prefer this recording, or feel it to be a worthy and favourably-priced companion to their Kempff collection. Also it must be noted that Kempff does not play more than half the music on this disk in his "complete" set, which omits sonata numbers and only refers to Deutsch numbers.

My criterion for good Chopin playing is that it should occasionally sound like Schubert. The reverse is true also: the best Schubert playing will occasionally remind you that Chopin was listening and taking notes.

Wallisch’s performances of Sonatas Nos. 11 and 12 have just been made available on Naxos 8.557189, so we may assume that this will eventually be a complete set of the sonatas and if the quality of future releases matches that of this one, it will be a very fine set, indeed.

Paul Shoemaker

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