Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 32, Op. 111 [27:43]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata in B flat, D960 [43:52]
Piotr Salajczyk (piano)
rec. April and July 2011, Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music Concert Hall,
DUX 0838 [71:35]
This is an intelligent and surprisingly rare coupling of sonatas. Beethoven’s
final piano sonata and Schubert’s last, written within seven years each
other, make a moving program, sharing as they do a sense of containing an
entire lifetime of emotion, compassion, longing, pain, and consolation. You
might worry about the prospect of, between Beethoven’s ending and Schubert’s
beginning, 50 minutes of consecutive slow(ish) movements: arietta, molto moderato,
andante. But there is enough drama, and enough variety, to make this not just
bearable but gratifying.
These two great sonatas - monuments of the literature, the Schubert described
in the booklet as disproof of the notion (which, one imagines, was never seriously
entertained) that Beethoven brought an end to the sonata genre - are presented
to us by Piotr Salajczyk, turning 30 years old this year, in an audacious
international recording debut. His competence is ever present, and his heart
is in the right place, but in the Schubert one wishes for the emotional insight
and poetic touch of more mature artists.
His Beethoven begins well, clear and immaculately played, with enough Sturm
und Drang to convince. Momentum seems to lapse ever so slightly a couple
times near the end of the first movement. The arietta, very broadly conceived
at 18:16, is very well done, with the fast ‘swing’ variation telling
joyfully and the ensuing quietest moments near-perfect though after 12:00
Salajczyk is a little rough in his playing of the high trills. This of course
yields to the really great accounts (you’ll have your favorites; mine
include Pollini, Richter, and Penelope Crawford), but it is nevertheless very good.
The Schubert receives a broad performance with just the epic sweep I desire;
Salajczyk finds ideal tempos for the first two movements, allowing the andante
to take very satisfying shape over ten minutes. But there are places where
one senses the difference between good pianism and great: the opening, for
instance, is played very ‘straight,’ without the softness or delicacy
of some of the greats. The scherzo’s trio, with a slight lack of rhythmic
spunk, is another problem spot. But all of this is still perfectly good -
just not remarkable.
The engineering is close and doesn’t inhibit enjoyment, although I wonder
at times if it or the piano is responsible for the slightly glassy, light
sheen on the instrument’s sound. The booklet satisfyingly ties the two
sonatas together, and the back cover says the recording was sponsored by MaleMen
Magazine. Again: quite worthy, and a coupling that ought to appear more, but
a disc destined to be liked without being loved.
Quite worthy and very good pianism, but slight imperfections get in the way.