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