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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano sonata in A minor, D845
3 Klavierstűcke, D946

Andreas Staier (piano)
rec. 1988/89, Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam, (sonata); 1990, Oud-Katholieke Kerk “Marion Minor”, Utrecht, Netherlands (Klavierstűcke); DDD

WARNER ELATUS 2564 61301-2 [60'50]


It is all too easy to assume that the character of a piece of music reflects the composer’s life at the time. The starkness tending to anger of the Sonata D845, at least in its opening movement, might suggest a period of difficulty, even of frustration, in Schubert’s life in 1825. In fact, his reputation was growing steadily; press notices for his songs were favourable, Schubertiads featuring his great singer-friend Vogl were popular and important works like the C major Mass D452 were published in that year. The summer saw a four-month holiday with Vogl in Upper Austria, one of the happiest periods of Schubert’s life.

And yet we have the A minor Piano Sonata, a work far removed from the conception of Schubert as lyrical song writer. The first movement is a stormy narrative full of pianistic incident; pauses, repeated notes and octaves, but not the sort of flowing, broken-chord accompaniment so otherwise typical of Schubert. The result is a tone-poem where the Fritz piano of 1825 is in its element, its ‘special effects’, particularly the doubly-felted moderator pedal, being put to colourful use. But I should say right now that this CD isn’t just about period performance and historical accuracy. Andreas Staier is a great Schubert pianist whatever the piano; he uses the capabilities of the instrument at his disposal, but he uses them in a way that completely serves Schubert’s dramatic conception. This is committed playing that rivals any of the finest modern instrument recordings (Uchida or Brendel, for example).

The other movements fare just as well. Staier is responsive to the capriciously varied figurations of the apparently untroubled Andante second movement, contrasting the delicate waltz lilt of the second variation with the strong octaves of the fourth. His touch in the darkly skittish Scherzo with its unsettling five-bar phrases and rude sfzorzandi is exemplary in its light and bouncing springiness as is his use of the piano’s contrasting registers and effects to clarify the music. The folksy trio irresistibly suggests Schubert, a drink in his hand, in the snug of a country pub deep in the Bohemian countryside. The soft impact of the Fritz’s hammers is ideal here.

The finale features a struggle between a flowing theme and a stronger one in octaves. Halfway through, the octaves stamp in triumph but the victory is short-lived and the slightly melancholy first theme runs on as though unstoppable. Staier characterises strongly as he does throughout the whole sonata.

‘Piano Pieces’ is a modest name for some powerful music, although, rather than Schubert, it seems to have been Brahms who (anonymously) called them that in his edition of 1868. They are products of Schubert’s last year and take a worthy place beside the mighty sonatas D858-860. As in his performances of those sonatas he recorded in 1997, Staier gets to the heart of Schubert’s mixture of tenderness and anger. Even if you have these works in your collection ten times over, add this CD for fresh insights and true Schubertian understanding.

Roger Blackburn


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