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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata in C minor, D.958 (No.19) (1828) [31:38]
Six Moments Musicaux, D.780 (publ. 1828) [32:39]
Emil Gryesten (piano)
rec. 6-7 May 2015, Musikkens Hus, Aalborg, Denmark

I could not have wished for a better CD to drop onto my doormat. Both works are amongst my favourite piano pieces and here they are beautifully played by Emil Gryesten. It seems that the older I get, the more I appreciate the music of Schubert, in all his genres. However the piano works have always held a special place in my heart. I guess it goes back to school, when a girlfriend was learning part of the E flat major Sonata, D.568 for her Grade 8.

The liner-notes describe the ‘Moments Musicaux’ as intimating ‘The Quiet World of Schubert’. These six pieces utilise a ‘thoroughly original personal style that usually emphasised intimate lyricism, rather than heroics and drama.’ They were probably written between 1823 and 1827, but were not published until the year of Schubert’s death. The ‘Moment Musicaux’ are the most frequently performed piano pieces by Schubert, after the Impromptus. The statistics on the Arkiv webpage make the point: 63 recordings of all four Impromptus and 56 of the Moment Musicaux. Finally, the present Sonata in C minor, D.958 has a grand total of 41 CDs currently shown, making it the most recorded of the cycle.

The six ‘Moments Musicaux’ are not throwaway trifles, but deeply focused miniatures that seem to epitomise the composer’s romantic nature. It has been noted that Schubert can present this mood using a relatively straightforward pianism. The overall temper of these pieces is one of melancholy and reflection, although the No.3 does nod to a Czech polka in its simplicity. No.4 possesses a flair that seems to derive from one of Bach’s two-part inventions. A touch of the ‘Danse-Macabre’ can be felt in the shadowy excitement of the fifth ‘Moment’. The final ‘allegretto’ is deeply moving both in its substance and its execution: there is surely nothing of the ‘miniature’ about this music.

The liner-notes conclude their discussion of these pieces by suggesting that ‘deep thoughts can be expressed with light colours … listening with sensitivity and empathy to the inner nuances of the mind.’

Although the ‘Moments Musicaux’ can be played individually, they are better heard as a sequence. The third, in F minor is by far the most popular, and is often used as a little encore.

The Sonata in C minor, D.958 was composed in a mad flurry of activity over a period of less than four weeks. It was completed some three months before the composer’s death. Along with the Sonata in A major, D.959 and the B flat major, D.960 they were first published as ‘Drei Grosse Sonaten’ a decade after Schubert’s death. All three works are a huge testament to the composer’s greatness. They are often deemed to represent his final accommodation with the shadow of Beethoven. On the other hand, it is also possible to look at them as representing Schubert’s emancipation from that influence. It is all too easy to note the C minor key of the present Sonata, and think of the ‘Pathétique’, op.13 of the elder composer. Certainly the blustery opening of the work is reminiscent of that work. Yet, the second subject is Schubert’s own genius, evoking a ‘sublime’ melody redolent of his Lied. The ‘adagio’ again raises thoughts of Beethoven, nevertheless this initially restful movement does move to something much more dramatic and powerful revealing considerable harmonic invention.

The third movement is a minuet as opposed to a scherzo. The liner notes suggest that this music gives an 'almost Mahlerian Weltschmerz' (a feeling of world-weariness) to this three minute miniature. The final rondo is a ‘tarantella’, which is breathless in its pursuit of its final goal, in spite of a number of contrasting episodes.

The Danish pianist Emil Gryesten was born in Aarhus in 1985. After study at the Jutland Academy of Music in his home-town, he continued at the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen, the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and finally, the International Piano Academy, Lake Como. His teachers included the Danish pianist Anne Øland as well as Fou Ts’ong and Tamas Vasary. It would be pointless to list all the competitions that Gryesten has won: suffice to say that few years have elapsed without a prestigious prize. His career has included recitals and concerto performances in Scandinavia and parts of Eastern and Central Europe. Gryesten has made a number of recordings, both studio and for radio broadcasts. He also plays as part of the Danish Trio Vivo.

The liner-notes are written by the late Erik T. Tawaststjerna (1916-93) and presented in Danish and English. There is a short biographical note about the pianist.

I was impressed with everything about this CD. The sound quality is great, the sensitivity and the sympathy with this music is perfect. Whether it is the stormy scalar passages in the ‘Finale’ of the Sonata or the restrained intimacy of the last ‘Moment’ Gryesten is in control.

This is a commendable addition to the Schubert discography. It is notable that Gryesten has chosen one of the sonatas that represent the ‘crowning achievement’ of Schubert’s piano music to make his debut CD recording. This was a brave, and I believe ultimately worthy choice. I look forward to hearing many more CDs from this exceptionally talented and thoughtful pianist.

John France



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