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, Katowice, Poland
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.
Brian Reinhart 

Quite worthy and very good pianism, but slight imperfections get in the way.