Christian Blackshaw plays Schubert

Schubert's last three piano sonatas were in the spotlight in this recital

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Christian Blackshaw plays Schubert
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Back in 2009 I went to a piano recital that completely took me by surprise. Mozart Sonatas, played in truly exquisite fashion by a pianist I’d not heard of before: Christian Blackshaw. Older listeners might well recognise him: a protégé of Clifford Curzon, he had enjoyed a successful career before having to put everything hold when his wife fell ill. Over the past five years, a series of recitals around the country, starting at St George’s in Bristol and taking in the Wigmore Hall, has secured him a place at the forefront of British pianists in the repertoire he favours, at the heart of which are Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann.

Blackshaw cuts a distinguished figure on stage, dressed all in black, with his silver hair swept back in a style almost reminiscent of Liszt. The lights were dimmed, with only soft lighting on the piano, creating an intimate, hushed space. It’s all carefully designed to create an atmosphere of respectful concentration and to allow intent listening, qualities that Blackshaw himself brings to his performances. And the programme required this seriousness of purpose: as part of 'The Last Word' festival at St George's, Blackshaw was playing Schubert’s three last piano sonatas. Written in 1828 in the final months of his life, these three works contain some of the composer's most profound music, moving from light wit to utter melancholy, or impassioned frenzy to sublime peace in a moment.

These were performances of masterly detail and control, with carefully modulated dynamics and always singing tone. In the C minor Sonata, a homage to Beethoven in many respects, Blackshaw’s unflagging energy and sense of rhythm paid dividends in the unrelenting tarantella finale, while his ear for textural clarity and for making ornamental detail tell, warmed the middle movement. The Andantino of the A major Sonata was ineffably melancholic, though the violence unleashed in the central section fell shy of truly terrifying. The great B flat major Sonata that crowns the trio brought out playing of serene nobility, though the trills rumbling in the distance sounded awkward rather than portentous. But in the C sharp minor slow movement, a remote, strange key for a piece in B flat major, the music seems to slip into stillness while continuing its inevitable journey: Blackshaw had the measure of this contradiction.

 

 

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  • Article Type: | Blog |
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