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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
CD 1
Piano Sonata in C minor D.958 [29:41]
Piano Sonata in A major D.959 [38:37]
CD 2
Piano Sonata in B flat major D.960 [42:18]
Piano Sonata in D major D.850 [37:14]
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
rec. August 2001, Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London (D.959), October 2002, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (D.850), September 2004 (D.960) and April 2006 (D.958), Potton Hall, Suffolk. DDD
[68:28 + 79:37]


Experience Classicsonline

For the most part, it’s rare that I find so little to disagree with. Everything seems so right and in its place, yet a lot of thought must have gone into making it sound so. Andsnes knows, for example, that the first movement of the D major has to spin along at a fair clip to make its point, whereas the similar movements in the last three sonatas need to build up gradually. All these monumental first movements have their repeats – but there’s a beat missing in the lead-back in the B flat, probably an editing mistake. Second subjects flow at the same tempo as first subjects, there’s no self-indulgent rubato, slow movements are broad yet not stagnant.

And yet, at the risk of seeming ungrateful for so much caring artistry – and I mean artistry, not just playing – I began to wonder. Is it a mite too calm and collected? Could not the music take just a little more weight of expression? I felt, just slightly, the lack of an awkward Mr. Brendel to pull it around and do things to it, but maybe, also, to find sudden illumination, unexpected depths. Or maybe, even, the lack of stubborn Mr. Richter to find a granitic, uncompromising tension in it. I felt all this particularly in the C minor – couldn’t that final Tarantella sell its soul to the Devil just a little more?

My other slight worry was that the A major was rather different from the others. It has more immediacy, zest, drama. But it also scampers away in places. Some might prefer this. I found it pointed up the advantages of the other performances.

This is one of those cases where “blind listening” might induce a critic to diagnose two pianists at work. I recently commented, somewhat ironically, on a similar case with Monique Haas’s Ravel. As those recordings are about forty years old, a tape could conceivably have got mislabelled over the years. In the present case it’s obviously ridiculous to suppose anything of the kind, with dates and venues clearly stated and a pianist in full career. What it does show is, firstly, the way a different sound picture can alter our perception of a performance or performer. Evidently, Lyndhurst Hall Air Studios produce a more upfront, almost aggressive, sound compared with Abbey Road and Potton Hall – which do not sound particularly different.

It also shows how a young artist can develop in a short time, since the A major was set down first. The inference is that Andsnes himself thought it a bit too impetuous or impulsive and reacted accordingly. What we have, then, is a record of his evolving Schubert, a process which will doubtless continue all his life. I daresay, in ten years’ time he will have found how to recover the drama and immediacy of that earlier A major without losing the more mature structural control of the other performances.

In the meantime, this is nevertheless fully recommendable to those who don’t want every “i” double-dotted and every “t” double-crossed la Brendel. I hope plenty more Schubert is planned.

Christopher Howell 



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