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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Wanderer Fantasy in C, D760 [22:38]
Sonata in A, D664 [21:25]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Sonata 1.X.1905, “In the Street” [14:32]
Herbert Schuch (piano)
rec. 1-4 August 2012, Studio 2, Bavarian Radio, Munich
OEHMS CLASSICS OC 863 [58:35]

This recital has a life-and-death quality: the heroic strugglings of Schubert’s wanderer, the funereal tone of Janáček’s memorial sonata, the sweet innocence of the sonata by Schubert. Herbert Schuch has proven time and again that he’s a brilliant creator of CD programmes, and so far they’ve all been capital-G great. Since getting this review copy, I’ve been going back again and again to his spectacular debut: Schumann’s Kreisleriana and Ravel’s Miroirs (Oehms Classics OC 541).
 
In part that’s because this is his first disappointment. He’s entitled to one at this point. The problem is with Schubert’s Sonata in A major, which gets a performance that I feel comfortable calling plain, slow, even sleepy. It would require either serious concentration or a metronome for me to figure out if any one movement is faster than the other two. The playing is very pretty, but it’s not my thing at all.
 
Schuch is never one to be generic, though. His new ideas in the other two works are good ones. The Wanderer Fantasy is achingly beautiful, especially the first movement, where he reveals his usual gift for finding about a hundred different gradations in volume, warmth and tonal colour. His Janáček sonata is unusually powerful, especially the moving funeral marches, where again dynamic range is another Schuch asset, since he can build up massive climaxes.
 
Then there’s that oh-so-dainty, cutesy Schubert sonata. He’s taking another calculated risk, like the risks he took in, say, Ravel’s Gaspard, but this one doesn’t work, for me. I’d be fine with him continuing to be daring, though, since the hits are so unforgettable. The sound quality is a little bit constricted and boxed in by the studio acoustic. It does not make Schuch’s full glory evident if you can believe me that he is capable of making prettier sounds than the ones recorded here.
 
Brian Reinhart 

Masterwork Index: Schubert piano sonatas  


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