Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Music - Volume 1

Sonata in A minor D537 (1817) [20:01]
Adagio in E major D612 (1818) [4:41]
Two Scherzos D593 (1817) [12:18]
Sonata in G major D894 (1826) [40:16]
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. 14-17 June 2013, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK. DDD

I have greatly enjoyed and enthusiastically reviewed previous recital albums on Nimbus of Bach, Chopin and Rachmaninov, so was keen to hear what is obviously the first in a projected series of Schubert’s piano music by one of the most thoughtful, reliable and intelligent of pianists active today.

If I am very slightly less enthused by this recital, that is more the consequence of personal taste regarding how I like this music to be performed. There is no doubting the coherence and integrity of Feltsman’s conception of Schubertian sensibility, but comparison with other sets by Walter Klien – my favourite pianist in Schubert in his almost complete set of the sonatas on the Vox label – and Martino Tirimo, in his definitive set of the sonatas, including his own completions, on Warner Classics, reveals Feltsman to have a more forthright and assertive interpretative style than Klien’s more lyrical, Romantic approach or the dreamy, poetic delicacy of Tirimo.

The recorded acoustic, too, plays a significant role in how Feltsman’s performances come across to the listener. Nimbus has recorded him “up close and personal” at a high volume level, which enhances the force and impact of his style and the resonance of his tone, whereas Tirimo is given a far softer, more distanced and ultimately more naturalistic ambiance. Klien, too, is recorded closely and given the era of his recordings you would expect there to be some background hiss, but it is not obtrusive.

Feltsman’s account of D537 is very similar to Klien’s, although the older artist catches more of the lilt in the irregular, five-bar theme in the opening movement and is more varied in his application of dynamics, Feltsman is likewise more direct in the middle movement – the sonata is unusual in that it has only three – and his insouciance contrasts with Tirimo’s gentler wistfulness and Klien’s perkier manner. The pattern continues with the Allegro vivace, in which Tirimo is more reflective and refined, Feltsman almost defiant, and Klien somewhere in between the two. Klien also makes more of the question-and-answer interplay between the two halves of the main theme but what matters most is that each artist is consistent in his interpretative stance throughout the whole sonata.

D894 sees Feltsman adopting a slow tempo but using a sustained pedal to avoid choppiness; Klien is the most lyrical and Tirimo more reflective, allowing a sense of meditative fantasy to emerge - rather as David Fray does in his new recording, played recently on BBC Radio 3 CD Review. The Andante is also taken so slowly that I feel a some coherence and momentum is lost in comparison with Tirimo, who is almost as slow but employs legato more effectively to combat any sense of lethargy. Once again, however, my preference here is for the warmth and lyricism of Klien. Feltsman’s Menuetto is almost percussive but not so much as Klien’s, who takes the risk of giving the rhythm an almost Spanish swagger which may be too much for some. Tirimo, with far less emphasis, succeeds in making the music dance nimbly and I prefer his style here. Feltsman is light and fluent in the Allegretto but Tirimo is graceful to a greater degree and Klien is typically mercurial.

The two fillers are a lovely little orphaned Adagio whose gentle, soulful tune wanders along and is punctuated by unexpected runs, scales, trills and flourishes, all very elegantly played by Feltsman. The two Scherzos are dance-like and light-hearted; Feltsman catches their perky humour deftly. The first is more refined, the second earthier and more robust; incidentally its trio is recycled on the E flat major sonata No. 7.

As much as I enjoyed this album, in general I find a little more poetry in rival versions, yet I still applaud Feltsman’s technical brilliance and aesthetic consistency in this recital.

A final point: Feltsman, like Tirimo, takes the repeat in the opening movement of D894 and provides his own thoughtful, sensitive notes.
Ralph Moore
Very elegant and with deft and perky humour but there is a little more poetry in rival versions.