Sound Samples & Downloads
Franz SCHUBERT (1797Ė1828)
Piano Sonata No. 4 in a minor, D537 (1817) [21:15]
Piano Sonata No. 13 in A, D664 (1819) [19:34]
Fantasy in C, D760, Wandererfantasie (1822) [21:26]
Eldar Nebolsin (piano)
rec. Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, UK, 24-25 October, 2009. DDD.
NAXOS 8.572459 [62:15]
This recital begins with two of Schubertís early piano sonatas
composed in 1817 and 1819, and concludes with one of his greatest
masterworks, the Fantasy in C major D760 known as the Wanderer.
Eldar Nebolsin sets a powerful and tragic tone at the
outset of the A minor sonata, with its rhythmically tight descending
minor scale motif. Schubertís expressive markings are meticulously
observed; there is plenty of light and shade where needed, and
Nebolsin produces some lovely tone in the more lyrical passages.
In the second movement he makes a convincing contrast between
the lyrical beauty of the right hand melody and the staccato
quaver accompaniment. Nebolsin always varies the repeats in
this variation form movement with subtle changes in rubato
and dynamics. In the final third movement, with its dramatic
opening, we return to more energetic music in which Nebolsin
The Sonata in A major, D664, composed about two years later,
is in a totally different mood. The gentle opening melody is
appropriately played in a simple and unfussy way. Further on
Nebolsin is well able to portray the more agitated and dramatic
parts of the movement. Following the flying octaves in the development
section, he makes a beautiful return to the workís opening theme
at the beginning of the recapitulation. The ensuing andante
movement is sensitively played and in the final allegro Nebolsin
makes convincing contrast between the virtuosic sections and
the movementís more lyrical moments.
The Wanderer Fantasy of 1822 is a work which, not only
formally, but in pianistic terms too, looks forward to future
developments in nineteenth century music, perhaps more so than
any other. With its four joined sections and use of an all-pervading
motif, it is the forerunner of the symphonic poem of Liszt,
the ideť-fixe of Berlioz and the leitmotif of
Wagner. The virtuosity required to play this work, including
pounding octave passages, anticipates the pianistic terrors
of Lisztís writing for piano later in the century.
The piano is indeed made to sound like an orchestra, and the
opening bars resonate with great power in Nebolsinís hands.
Maybe when this motif is repeated and developed from bar 15
where it is marked to be played very softly, a more subtle difference
in mood and colour could have been forthcoming. Brendel (Philips
420 644-2) captures this change beautifully by playing the opening
motif a fraction quicker and lighter than Nebolsin, so that
his pianissimo together with a gentle slowing down, is more
sensitive and telling. Pollini (DG Classics 447 451-2, with
Schumann Fantasie, Op.17) is also more subtle here and
in similar passages.
The important transition into the ensuing adagio section
of the work is also subtly and movingly presented by Brendel.
Nebolsin begins just a fraction too loudly compared with the
final chords of the first section, making this sound too obviously
like a new movement. However Nebolsinís performance is superb,
full of sad pathos where needed as well as glittering demisemiquavers
and menacing tremolandi. The third and fourth sections
are powerful, explosive and energetic where necessary, but perhaps
a bit too much like Liszt for some tastes. Brendel is rather
more poetic and imaginative in the cantabile melodic
passages, with rubato that allows for more subtlety and
a greater sense of spaciousness in the phrasing. Pollini also
gives a truly great performance of this work.
Eldar Nebolsin gives first class performances of the Wanderer
Fantasy and the two sonatas, and I would highly recommend
this disc especially at budget price. However, for truly great
playing I would choose Brendel or Pollini.
Brian Wilson has also listened to this recording:
I passed this recording on for three reasons: first because
Geoff Molyneux (hereafter GM) has the scores and can actually
play these pieces himself, secondly because I thought the performances
of the sonatas a little penny-plain, and thirdly because I wondered
if this version of the Wanderer Fantasy wasnít just a
trifle too tame.
My reservations about the sonatas disappeared on second hearing,
which serves as a reminder that first impressions are not always
accurate. We may bemoan the loss of the facility that most record
shops used to provide a chance of hearing a recording before
purchase, but I now wonder how many records I dismissed after
one hearing that would have grown on me. What I at first interpreted
as reticence in Nebolsinís account of D537 I now hear as a combination
of Schubertís failure at this early stage fully to emerge from
the shadow of Mozart and (especially) Beethoven and the pianistís
sensitivity to this transitional style.
Once one has heard the last three sonatas, especially D960,
itís all too easy to dismiss Schubertís earlier works for the
piano as Ďcrude to ears familiar with the fine texture of nineteenth-century
pianist-composersí, especially as ĎBeethoven placed a heavy
responsibility upon any composer who wished to write ĎSonataí
at the top of his paper.í [Hutchings A, The Master Musicians:
Schubert (London: Dent, 1949, 1979), p.143] Putting D960
aside, D537 and, even more, D664, emerge from these sensitive
performances as attractive works.
Nevertheless, the Wanderer Fantasy rises from the gap
at the end of D644 sounding like a work of a very different
order. Like GM, my chief comparison for the Wanderer has
been with the 1972 Brendel recording, coupled with an equally
marvellous performance of the wonderful B-flat Sonata, D960,
on Philips 420 6442 Ė well worth seeking out second-hand, since
itís no longer available separately. The digital remake coupling
these two works (422 0622) is also no longer available as a
single CD, though it can be downloaded from passionato.com Ė
I must also admit to liking Lisztís arrangement for piano and
orchestra of the Wanderer in the performance by Jorge
Bolet, currently available in a bargain 9-CD set of Boletís
Liszt (467 8012) or on a 2-CD Double Decca with Julius Katchenís
recordings of the Piano Concertos (458 3612). Indeed,
I suspect that if I kept score I should find myself reaching
for the more exciting Liszt arrangement more often than the
As I have to put recollections of the late sonatas aside, then,
so with the Wanderer itís necessary to forget Lisztís
arrangement. Iíve already said that the work arises from the
end of D644 as music of a very different kind, something which
would not have been possible if Nebolsinís performance had truly
been as understated as I first thought it to be. I shall certainly
not be pensioning Brendel off, especially as his recording comes
with a version of D960 to rival that of Clifford Curzon, but
I shall be returning to Nebolsin at least from time to time
as a reminder that there are other ways of playing this work.
Those who accuse Brendel of agogic distortion in Schubert Ė
pulling the music about too much Ė will probably prefer Nebolsinís
more straightforward approach.
GM also mentions the merits of Polliniís Wanderer Fantasy,
a version which I havenít yet encountered. Thatís available
for download from passionato.com in mp3 and lossless versions
As they also offer the digital Brendel (see above) and the Liszt
arrangement, that sounds like an idea for a forthcoming version
of my bi-monthly Download Roundup.