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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Music - Volume 1
Sonata in A minor D537 (1817) [20:01]
Adagio in E major D612 (1818) [4:41]
Two Scherzos D593 (1817) [12:18]
Sonata in G major D894 (1826) [40:16]
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. 2013, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK

In January, I had the pleasure of reviewing Volume 6 of Vladimir Feltsman’s traversal through Schubert’s solo piano works. Volumes 5 and 6 are 2CD sets, making 8 in all. I am grateful to Nimbus for sending me the first five volumes which I will review in the coming weeks; the 5th has not yet been covered by the site. Reviewing Volume 2 in 2015, Ralph Moore advised that the intention was for Feltsman to record the eleven sonatas that Schubert finished, plus a couple of 'fragments'. He wasn’t absolutely certain how they would be programmed but the plan is to have one of the 'big' sonatas on each CD. Regarding Brahms, Feltsman has today confirmed that he wants to begin recording in March next year. Fortunately, as far as Schubert is concerned, Feltsman recorded further works. Martino Tirimo in his well respected sets, covers the series in 8 CDs. Other artists such as András Schiff (Decca) have recorded the works on 9 CDs and the Michel Dalberto set on Brilliant runs to no fewer than 14 discs. Alfred Brendel has recorded Schubert throughout his lengthy career but has now sadly retired. He has left two cycles for Philips of later works and in the vast 114 CD Collection “Alfred Brendel - Complete Philips Recordings” some live recordings are included. These were described by Dominy Clements as life-enhancing. Brendel also recorded some, way back in the 1960s, for Vox/Turnabout and these can be found in an invaluable, if variably recorded Brilliant collection. I obviously won’t ignore others such as Curzon, Ashkenazy, Richter, Haebler, Kovacevich, Lupu and Perahia. My intention will be to review the individual sets and try to place Feltsman in the context of other performers at the conclusion.

The first Sonata presented in this journey is No. 4, Sonata in A minor. This was composed when Schubert was 20. It’s important to remember that he died aged only 31, so terms such as early or late Schubert are relative. Lovers of the 1985 film “Room with a View’ will recall Miss Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) playing this piece at a soirée. Feltsman presents this work as mature and is very well recorded a correct balance of force and delicacy is achieved. The somewhat quirky “Allegretto-quasi Andantino” uses the theme that Schubert presented, smoothed down appropriately in the final movement of his penultimate Sonata, No. 20 D959 on Volume 4. In either version, it deploys a charming Viennese tune which is very memorable. I’d agree with Ralph Moore that Feltsman is perkier than some other interpreters although it’s a long time since I heard the very distinguished Walter Klien on Vox. I liked his approach in the final movement “Allegro Vivace” which seems appropriate to Schubert’s youth. The recital continues with an “Adagio” from 1818 which may originally have been composed for a sonata but ended alone. It’s described correctly in Vladimir Feltsman’s, notes as “soulful” but as one would expect from Schubert there are sudden outbursts and expressive gestures before a whispered adieu. The two Scherzos D593 are familiar from other performers and are well worth hearing. The first is a Ländler which is an infectious waltz and the second has a trio which Schubert used in the Sonata in E flat major D568 which is in Volume 3.

The major work on this CD is the Sonata in G major D894 which unbelievably was the last Sonata to be published during Schubert’s lifetime. In 1928, when the centenary of Schubert’s early death was being commemorated with much fanfare, Rachmaninov was asked what he thought of Schubert’s piano sonatas. He expressed ignorance that he’d written any. Schubert’s great advocate Alfred Brendel stated in 1988 “That was a time when people still believed that Schubert’s style did not develop,” that “Schubert modelled his sonatas on Beethoven’s and failed,” and that “Schubert’s music is like the soft, comforting contours of the Austrian landscape.” Worst of all, Schubert’s piano writing was accused of being “unpianistic”. Those dark days extended beyond the late 19th century, when Schumann thought the late sonatas were crazy, and when Schubert was idolized primarily for his supposed naiveté. For myself, I came to Schubert through “The Trout Quintet” and the “Octet”, a few songs and three or four Symphonies, later discovering the late sonatas. One of my prized recordings of D894 is by András Schiff (Decca), in his “Complete Box”. I would regard Feltsman as very fine in this absorbing work as well. The haunting repetitive melody of the first movement never fails to draw me in. I’d agree with Ralph Moore that Feltsman takes the “Andante” very slowly (9:21) against Schiff (7:51) but Feltsman keeps the pulse going at even so steady a tempo and it works. The archetypal Schubert “Menuetto-Allegro-Moderato” follows and melts the heart. Feltsman certainly doesn’t hang around in the final “Allegretto” with its charming twists and turns based on a dance theme, but gives time to admire the view as it were. I found it very absorbing and thought it very satisfactory. The piano is captured in an image that is very “upfront’ but it sounded very tangible on my system.

This is a very well planned programme and reinforces the impression from Volume 6 that Feltsman is a formidable Schubertian. I look forward to reviewing the other four discs with great anticipation.
David R Dunsmore
Previous review: Ralph Moore

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