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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonatas - Volume 3
Sonata in E-flat major D568 (1817) [33:17]
Sonata in C minor D958 (1828) [33:41]
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. 2015, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK

This is the third in a series of six volumes of Schubert’s piano sonatas ; the final Volume 6, I reviewed in March. I have subsequently written up Volumes 1 and 2. Ralph Moore has previously reviewed the first four volumes Volume 1 ~ Volume 2 ~ Volume 4  as well as the current issue. I will be reviewing Volume 4, and also the double set that is Volume 5, not as yet reviewed here. The present CD maintains the high standards of the other issues and illustrates Feltsman’s abilities and also, a style individual and illustrative of a lifetime’s thought over these and other key works in the piano soloist’s repertoire. It’s possible that it may not appeal to everyone but it certainly does to me.

In his invaluable notes, Feltsman makes the point that unlike Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, Schubert was actually born in Vienna in 1797. His music is constantly imbued with the spirit of the city which I was fortunate to spend a fortnight in and hope, some day to see again. There is an atmosphere of music-making in the streets and Schubert’s music captures this. Is Schubert the last “classical” or the first “romantic” composer? Really, such titles are meaningless. What can be agreed is that he was a lonely figure in musical history; a dreamer certainly, who brought into music a degree, previously unknown, of intimacy, despair, hope and disappointment. Such emotions are apparent and laid bare in these two works and illustrate a shyness that may have been linked with uncertainty over his sexuality. One must also remember that his main reputation for years rested on his 600+ lieder; many piano and other compositions lay undiscovered and untouched. As is well known, at the centenary of Schubert’s death in 1928, Kurt Atterburg won a prize in the Schubert competition for his Symphony No.6 nicknamed the “Dollar”; I have this in a recording (Dutton) conducted by Beecham. That year, no less an authority than Sergei Rachmaninoff expressed ignorance that Schubert had written any sonatas.

The cover of this Nimbus CD is of the picture "Two Men Contemplating the Moon" by Caspar Friedrich (1774-1840). One of these men is the artist and it seems all of a piece with these two generally introverted works. D568 was originally composed in 1817 as Sonata in D-flat major D567. Schubert revised it in 1826 and it wasn’t published (and then posthumously) until 1829 in the E-flat major revision. As Ralph Moore has pointed out the middle movements are particularly sombre. To me, it is a product of what sadly we must call “late Schubert”; he was only 29. Like D958 the final movement seems to be the key to the work and is a modification of the main theme from the first movement. Beethoven’s last three sonatas, highly unconventional as they are, were written at about this time; some hear “boogie-woogie” in Op. 111’s second movement. By contrast Schubert remained classical throughout and yet there’s an agony in some of both composers’ later works. Feltsman presents the Schubert as both youthful, never juvenile and with an element of retrospection. The waltz provides testimony to Schubert’s somewhat gauche personality and humour.

D958 is the first of the “Final Three” sonatas of Schubert’s last year and will be very well known to piano lovers. I have about a dozen recordings of this work including fine readings by Uchida and Brendel, twice on Philips, Kempff on DG and Schiff on Decca. The latter, whom I’m aware has his detractors, remains a favourite of mine. Feltsman’s performance is awe-inspiring and I had no hesitation in repeating it immediately. The work may be slightly less overwhelming than No.21 D960 but has its own force and delicacy. Feltsman points out the influence of Beethoven’s ‘heroic’ works, like the “Pathétique Sonata” in C minor. I find the first movement intriguing with efforts to break into joyful melody from a soulful main theme, all played with great empathy. What is one to make of the final movement which always registers with great impact? That said, don’t think that I’m belittling the middle movements. The “Tarantella” nature of the main theme might seem to have traces of optimism but is surely too obsessive and relentless to convey much positive feeling despite beautiful melodies and flourishes. It’s deservedly one of the pillars of the piano repertoire. Feltsman belongs in the pantheon of great Schubertians.

This is another volume in this first-rate series. It has been an utter joy and privilege to listen to, review and above all to appreciate afresh Schubert’s genius. I’m looking forward to Volumes 4 and 5.
David R Dunsmore

Previous review: Ralph Moore

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