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Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonatas: C minor, D958 (1828) [32’4]; B flat, D960 (1828) [46’27].
Elisabeth Leonskaja (piano).
Rec. Teldec Studios, Berlin, in February 1997. DDD
WARNER APEX 2564 61909-2 [79’32]


Elisabeth Leonskaja’s Schubert, at its best, is up there with the greats. I think explicitly of her Dabringaus & Grimm offering that I reviewed just over a year ago ( ‘At its best’ is the key phrase, as a previous Apex reissue (2002) left me very much colder ( The present release, which includes the greatest of all Schubert sonatas, D960, sits somewhere between the two.

First up is the C minor, D958, though. The first movement impresses by Leonskaja’s ability to present big-boned Schubert; the opening is Schubert at his most Beethovenian. This sits next to the more intimate, tender side of the composer - the ‘second subject area’ - giving lyrical space without indulgence. Throughout it is obvious that we are in the presence of a very experienced player.

The near-hymnic Adagio includes some gorgeous moments; left-hand staccato around 6’35, for example. These are pitted against some sforzandi that seem harsh and out-of-place. The last two movements work well, the Menuetto robust, almost rustic, containing balm-like contrasts. The final Allegro is flighty, quirky, its tarantella rhythms given in jewel-like articulation by Leonskaja.

The great B flat Sonata requires a pianist of the highest musical vision to sustain its length. For Richter try the 1961 version on Brilliant Classics 92229, where one enters the presence of greatness – review to follow. Both Richter and Uchida (Philips) remain, in their different ways, supreme interpreters. Leonskaja might not join them in the same firmament, but her account has much to offer.

The slight feeling of unease accorded to the long melody at the outset is, I suspect, deliberate; the marvellous evenness of the famous low left-hand trill (1’12) must be. Leonskaja can give a liquid flow to left-hand accompaniments which seem to have received equal care in preparation to the Haupstimmen. The grunting that appears from time to time came as a surprise, but is not terrifically off-putting. The overall impression is of ‘rightness’ without attendant greatness, while the piano itself is a source of joy, beautifully toned and well caught by Bernhard Mamich (Producer) and Eberhard Sengpiel (Engineer).

The slow movement is serene and includes some truly gorgeous moments yet refuses to attain greatness. Again it is the final two movements that fare the best, the Scherzo blessed with the lightest of touches. The finale keeps you guessing, its fortes large without ever breaking the tone of the piano. The ‘ping’ - not too technical a term, I hope! - to the treble is a delight to listen to.

This is a fine, solid interpretation. The disc comes in with a playing time of just under eighty minutes, and at the price that is a lot of dots per penny. Leonskaja will not lead you to the heavenly realms, but she will lead you instead intelligently and always sensitively through these marvellous scores.

Colin Clarke


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