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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata in F-sharp minor D571 (1871, unfinished) [7:03]
Piano Sonata in C major D840 Reliquie (1825) [26:25]
Michael FINNISSY (b. 1946)
Completion of Schubert’s D 840 (2016/17) [23:31]
Jörg WIDMANN (b. 1973)
Idyll und Abgrund: Six Schubert Reminiscences for Piano (2009) [14:33]
Yehuda Inbar (piano)
rec. 2018, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin.

A native of Israel, Yehuda Inbar has been based in London since studies at the Royal Academy of Music, and making quite an impact on the music scene in recent years. This recording reveals a pianist with a gorgeous touch, sincerely poetic intelligence and an imaginative and adventurous approach to programming.

The opening Piano Sonata in F-sharp minor D571 is a delicious Allegro moderato, though the actual music is gentler than this tempo indication suggests. The only thing that hints at the early provenance of this piece is a left-hand figure that remains rather unvarying, but the harmonies explored and its deft lyricism both transport us into those unmistakable realms that are unique to Schubert. This is one of those unfinished movements that just stops unexpectedly, and is all the more enigmatic for it.

The Piano Sonata in C major D840 ‘Reliquie’ is much more well-known, and Inbar plays it with consummate skill – the steel behind the velvet glove creating all of those dramatic dynamic contrasts that make this music so compelling. Inbar doesn’t go in for rhythmic distortions, giving flow to the music through the most natural sounding phrasing which allows for some elasticity of tempo, but doesn’t distract from the central narrative. The Andante second movement starts out like a song, but develops in darkness and light in the most sparing of textures. Inbar is restrained here, allowing space for those Mussorgsky-like interjections further along, but for the most part laying out Schubert’s deceptively simple sounding score with empathetic and elegant expressiveness.

Many composers have had a go at completing this work, and Michael Finnissy has a track record in embracing and transforming Schubert’s music into new compositions, making him a good choice for Yehuda Inbar’s commission. The booklet notes outline his approach, which avoids a pastiche of 1820s Viennese style: “my intention here is to provide a substantial finale to Schubert’s sonata, working with and reflecting on earlier movements in the sonata – along with two songs originally to words of August von Platen – exactly as I would with self-generated ideas.” The Minuetto third movement sets off with Schubert’s own opening, which takes off into unexpected directions. There is plenty of Schubert here, keeping to the idiom of this particular sonata with its inclination towards dramatic excursions, but always with a feeling of slipperiness, a sense that we can be knocked off course at any moment. The Finale is more remote from the outset, setting up a world of introspection and recollection. This is Schubert through smoked glass: peer as hard as you can and you will indeed catch the occasional glimpse of those familiar spectacles, but the presence remains elusive throughout. I had to admit to struggling more than somewhat with Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound (review), but there is something in allying this kind of idiom within the framework of Schubert which gives the result an added dimension. There is madness, but it can be imagined as the madness of Schumann or some other tragic composer, hearing music stretched and twisted in strange ways as the disciplines of logic and convention ebb away. Finnissy leaves Schubert’s D 840 as questioningly as we found it, “allowing its life to continue beyond the bar line.”

Jörg Widmann’s Idyll und Abgrund: Six Schubert Reminiscences for Piano is a set of miniatures that pay homage to Schubert in evoking his music with an aim to “capture this constantly precarious fight between heaven and hell, paradise and the very depths of anxiety and between idyll and abyss in my own personal fashion.” Introspection and flashes of dramatic intensity bring this work into the fold, as it where, resonating well with the other music in this programme. The view of Schubert we have through Widmann’s glass is at times lighter, allowing fragments of dance to dart through, with even a witty whistle from the performer at one point. This is a kaleidoscope which depends for its colours and moods on which way the composer points it. There is strangeness and darkness, but also a luminosity that casts its own spell.

Expertly recorded in a fine acoustic, this is a fascinating and substantial programme by what is clearly one of today’s foremost younger pianists. I look forward to seeing what Yehuda Inbar comes up with next, but can certainly recommend this Schubert-plus release for its daring and exploratory angle on one of our most beloved composers.

Dominy Clements

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