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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat major, D 960 (1828) [38:15]
Klavierstücke, D 946 (1828) [32:20]
Oleg Marshev (piano)
rec. Symfonien, Aalborg, Denmark, January 2005. DDD

Oleg Marshev has now been very extensively recorded by Danacord. His recordings of Prokofiev’s solo keyboard works (a five CD set) were widely praised. His recordings of the same composer’s five piano concertos, of the solo piano works of Rachmaninov – and of much else, have also found plenty of admirers. I recently took a good deal of pleasure in his recital of early works by Brahms (see review). This CD devoted to late Schubert comes, however, as a mild disappointment.
The major work is Schubert’s last sonata, D960 in B flat. It is one of the great works of the solo keyboard repertoire. Schubert completed it on 26 September 1828, less than two months before his death. He played it at a private party the following day. That performance must have been an almost unbearably poignant affair – for it is surely not only with the advantage of hindsight that the lyricism of this music seems never to allow the listener completely to forget the shadow of mortality. Two great – but very different – pianists have both put things exceedingly well: “this is a work written in the proximity of death ... one feels it from the very first theme ... the breaking off, and the silence after a long, mysterious trill in the bass” (Claudio Arrau); “The end of the second movement of the B flat sonata is the end of everything, and the third movement is an event beyond the grave. It’s not death with glory, as in Beethoven’s Opus 111: it’s death without fear.” (Mitsuko Uchida).
Marshev is, of course, a highly proficient pianist – which isn’t meant to sound like damning with faint praise. Indeed, he’s a very fine pianist. But he doesn’t, I think, really penetrate to the core of this remarkable sonata. The first movement lacks the sheer anguish that the very best performances have; the andante sostenuto hasn’t the inwardness, the absolute contemplative stillness and ethereal quality that one has heard from, say Uchida. Marshev doesn’t fall far short at any point, but the competition is fierce. Schnabel, Richter, Kempff, Kovacevich, Lupu, Uchida – all can be heard in performances of more profound poetry than Marshev is able to create or sustain. More positively, it should be said that Marshev’s performance is pleasingly free of the kind of excessively over-interventionist readings to which this sonata has sometimes been subjected.
The three Klavierstücke, written just a few months earlier, are well-performed. Marshev’s qualities are more readily apparent here, the rhythmic patterns well-shaped, moods and pictures evoked with pleasing directness.
In an essay on book reviewing, Victoria Glendinning once observed that “many books published ... are neither so bad as to demand anger nor so good as to require fanfares”. The same goes for CDs – and this is one of them. It would be absurd to call it bad; the worst that one might say is that it makes one reach for adjectives like efficient and competent, rather than profound or intense. So, no fanfares either.

Glyn Pursglove






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