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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata in B Major Op 147, D575 [24.14]
Piano Sonata in A Minor Op 164, D537 [24.19]
Piano Sonata in A Major Op 120, D664 [19.57]
Barry Douglas (piano)
rec. 2018, Curtis Auditorium, Cork, Ireland
CHANDOS CHAN20086 [68.40]

This is the fourth volume of Barry Douglas’ traversal of Schubert’s complete piano music.  Douglas focuses on the composer’s three earliest piano sonatas which were written between 1817 and 1819.  While Douglas’ Schubert discs have contained some truly inspired playing there have also been some misfires.  This is particularly true of this latest disc which is very choppy and uneven.

Douglas opens with the B Major Piano Sonata which is one of the composer’s less frequently performed piano works.  In the opening section of the first movement, which is marked Allegro ma non troppo, Douglas sounds hesitant and the playing is somewhat stilted.  He redeems himself in the ensuing lyrical material which trips along delightfully and is full of Viennese charm. The Andante second movement contains some lovely poetic playing and Douglas’ handling of the composer’s textures is a model of clarity.  The scherzo opens with an easy, flowing lyricism and the dance elements come to the fore beautifully, although some of the chords sounded a little heavy. The finale opens in boisterous fashion and Douglas captures wonderfully the sense of whimsy and carefree abandon that pervade the music.

Douglas turns next to the first of Schubert’s A Minor Piano Sonatas which famously featured in the 1985 film adaptation of E M Foster’s, ‘A Room with a View’.  Douglas opens the work in dramatic fashion and appears to relish the driving rhythms while exploring the composer’s rich textures. One has the sense of being taken on a journey in the Allegretto second movement and Douglas allows the music to flow in a natural and instinctive way.  He achieves a remarkable sense of architectural cohesion in the long and thematically diffuse movement. Having done such an excellent job with the first two movement, the final Allegro vivace is a major disappointment. The tempo is slow and the playing much too deliberate and self-conscious.  The scampering passagework is leaden and overly contrived in this performance.

Douglas’ performance of the little A Major Sonata is again very mixed.  The tempo he adopts in the Allegro moderato first movement is too slow for my taste and the playing too saccharine and indulgent.  The Andante second movement opens in a poised and elegant manner, but the movement become over Romanticised as the music progresses. It is important to balance Schubert’s Romantic impulses with Classical discipline, particularly in these early sonatas.  The highlight of the entire disc is the final Allegro which contains some gorgeous playing. The scales and runs sparkle under Douglas’ hands and the music brims over with an infectious sense of delight. The playing put me in mind of Lupu’s wonderful performance of the same sonata.

Overall, these performances are uneven and they do not show Douglas at his best.  I would welcome a more attentive adherence to the composer’s markings and less self-conscious deliberation in the next few volumes.

Robert Beattie 

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