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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonatas - Volume 4
Sonata in A minor D784 (1823) [23:33]
Sonata in A major D959 (1828) [41:23]
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. 2015, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth

This is the fourth in a series of six CDs of Schubert piano sonatas. The final discs in the series are scheduled to be completed in 2020. So far, I have reviewed Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3 and Volume 6, all previously reviewed by Ralph Moore who covered this volume in 2017 which will leave just the fifth to evaluate.

My overall impression, so far, is of a strong individual, perhaps following the Russian tradition of Sviatoslav Richter. In any event Feltsman is some way removed from the more delicate and intellectual pianists like Murray Perahia, Maurizio Pollini, Andras Schiff and Alfred Brendel. The traversals of the finest modern proponent, Paul Lewis, include the works played on this disc by Feltsman; there’s a Lewis double set on Harmonia Mundi, which was very favourably reviewed here. One advantage of Feltsman’s cycle is that the components can be purchased singly and appreciated in that way, rather than in a box. That said, a compilation including other pieces such as the Impromptus and Moments Musicaux would be most tempting.

My overriding impression of Feltsman’s D784, composed when Schubert was just 26, is that he perceives this very much as a serious work. There is an overriding darkness which anticipates deep works such as the song cycle “Winterreise” (Winter Journey) and the final String Quartet No.15 in G major D887. A favourite recording of this piece is by another Russian Vladimir Ashkenazy, which was recorded back in 1966 but sounds remarkably clear in a Japanese pressing from London Decca. It’s significant that he is equally powerful but faster in both outer movements 11’01” and 4’43” compared with Feltsman’s graver 13’35” and 6’09”. Ashkenazy, not yet 30, seems to be more in tune with the stormy, unkempt hair and untidy appearance of Schubert. In the third movement there seems to be almost a pre-echo of the sea storms of Mendelssohn’s “Fingal’s Cave”, from 1830. I agree with Ralph Moore’s assertion that Feltsman is measured but never in my opinion is he too slow. All in all, this Sonata deserves recognition and is worth several listens before its qualities come through. The engineers deserve congratulations on perfectly capturing those final chords.

The second piece here is the penultimate Sonata No.20 D959 and as in his performance of D960 from Volume 2 I find Feltsman absolutely absorbing. The first movement is contrasts outward melody with darker introspection but Feltsman moves effortlessly through the various twists and turns. These late works were written about the same time as Beethoven’s final three, Opp. 109, 110 and 111 but the tragedy seems to be trying to be expressed to the listener rather than the “cut off” world of the deaf and increasingly despairing Beethoven. The element of dance is never far away from Schubert and Feltsman certainly captures the rhythm very tenderly when needed but within a strong backbone. The listener will know from listening to this opening movement Feltsman’s preferred approach. I relate to it highly and feel he is conveying all the qualities of Schubert that I find so intriguing and appealing. He sweeps us along by a force that sometimes seems out of control. There is a liquid nature to Feltsman’s playing in the Andantino and he calls to mind the First of the Impromptus D899, which are all from the same pianistic joinery. Schubert’s pent-up frustration, sexual or knowledge of impending death, I don’t know, but it’s certainly conveyed in a very individual manner. Then Schubert takes us into the delightful dance-like Scherzo: Allegro Vivace, with shades of Chopin; so much so that my wife thought it was by Chopin. The music nevertheless has an underlying unease that never quite goes away. I suspect that a similarly frustrated pianist and composer, Brahms will have studied this work. The final movement of D960 is one of Schubert’s most pleasing creations. He takes the melody that he earlier used in D537 which you will find in Volume 1, but the hesitant and gauche tune is properly extended and there is even a swagger in the melody. The Rondo is by some distance the longest final movement among Schubert’s piano sonatas and it isn’t a moment too long in this performance. I enjoyed it enormously. Feltsman so clearly loves this music but avoids any unnecessary ornamentation. It ends another highly satisfactory recital.

This fourth volume continues the very high standard in interpretation and recording reflected in the other discs. The notes by Feltsman are excellent and informative. If you haven’t ventured into this series yet, then this entry point is as good as any. I look forward to hearing and evaluating Volume 5) very soon.

David R Dunsmore

Previous review: Ralph Moore

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