Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata D.958 No.19 in C Minor (1828) [34:52]
Impromptu D.935 No.1 in F Minor (1827) [11:06]
Impromptu D.935 No.2 in A b Major (1827) [8:15]
Impromptu D.935 No.3 in B b Major (1827) [11:53]
Impromptu D.935 No.4 in F Minor (1827) [7:20]
Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
rec. May 2015, Potton Hall, Little Tribeca, Suffolk, England

The broad and impetuous statement of Schubert’s C minor Piano Sonata D.958, as performed by Nikolai Lugansky, brings to my mind less the image of Schuberttasn that of Rachmaninoff. Lugansky backs off, eventually, and makes less of a tempestuous, bold sound, but right off the bat this doesn’t, on the surface, gel with my sensitivities. No doubt due to some deficiency of my own, I constantly lose the long – or any – line, with Lugansky at the wheel here, and I forget what I am listening to – and for: I hear notes more than a sonata. A strange thing, which can only be partially explained through a lack of concentration. I would argue that it was being made hard for me to concentrate when I was required to hear too much of the same thing, with little variation in sound or character: The phenomenon often subsided when I played other interpretations, famous and less-well known. (These included Uchida/Philips, Brendel/Vanguard and both Philips, Endres/Capriccio, Perahia/Sony, Barnatan/Avie, Sheppard/Romeo, and Pollini/DG, in no particular order.)

Speaking of alternative accounts: while not ostentatiously impressive, I found myself very drawn to Craig Sheppard’s account, with his light sound (as if recorded at home) and an unfussy, deft hand with the first movement which he infuses with joy and momentum, despite being on the average-to-slow side with about 10:30. (Brendel manages in under 8 minutes in his first and last recording, Lugansky takes 11:46, by some distance the slowest of the ones I listened to.) In direct comparison – not that any sane person listens to music that way – I found Lugansky always on the slow, lagging side and Brendel and Uchida on the rushed side.

More than about Schubert, I found out about my own peculiar D.958 listening-preference in this process, which is apparently always a light, fleet touch… not necessarily fast but with forward momentum that doesn’t make me feel hurried along. Any tendency for rumination and brawn (both present in Lugansky), and I’m tuning out. But when the finale is done the way Michael Endres does, I’m all ears. He is magnificently playful and neither at the heel nor toes of the pulse. And while Pollini doesn’t top any hypothetical movement-by-movement list, I like the zip-a-doodle playing of the Italian gran signore, except perhaps for the slow movement (8:09), where he straddles in style what the gorgeously indulgent Uchida (8:45) and the refreshingly hard-nosed Sheppard (7:22) are doing. Lugansky again manages to lose me amid the nearly ten minutes he takes, even though he charms me tremendously with his soft-paw touch. The recorded sound Naďve have given him helps… it’s a very nice, slightly distant sound, with room for the music to bloom.

It’s a different story with the late D.935 Impromptus, where the consoling beauty of Lugansky does the trick for me, although his methods don’t change: He’s still souping it up with the grand, slow romantic gesture, pulling tempos and adding plenty of agogic accents. If we gather anything from that, it’s that the question of what works for a listener or not is not solely related to the accuracy with which a pianist follows the score or convention, but how we listen to a work. There are, I imagine (without actually comparing more recordings and following the score), dozens of recordings that follow the letter precisely and even use instruments that Schubert would have had at his disposal, which is another sound-world altogether. (András Schiff’s most recent recording on ECM comes to mind, but also Alexei Lubimov [Zig-Zag], Viviana Sofronitsky [Cavi], and Andreas Staier [Harmonia Mundi] – just for the Impromptus.) Some of these are accounts I also like very much. This doesn’t replicate any of those interpretations, to say the least. A very different cup of tea, indeed, which may work for some, and not at all for others, or a little bit of both to some. Ultimately not my cup of tea, despite my pleasure in the Impromptus, but how strange if everything were… Just as strange as if there weren’t going to be enthusiastic takers for this personal, toffee-esque, indulgent brand of Schubert.

Jens F. Laurson

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