Schubert Piano Sonatas
Of the two sonatas on this disc, which is, incidentally, the longest CD I have ever encountered, the first is Schubert on the very brink of greatness in the sonata, the form for which Beethoven had set a standard which Schubert like all his successors felt intimidated by. The latter is not only Schubert’s greatest contribution to the genre but for many of us ranks among the supreme works in any form. The A minor Sonata (D845) is almost as long as the B flat major (D960), but as with many of Schubert’s extended works, it doesn’t wholly justify its length. The challenge for the performer is to make some of Schubert’s more conscientious development sections sound as if they are doing something more than filling up space, and though Maria João Pires steers a steady path between deadpan playing of the notes and pulling them around in an effort to inject them with significance, there are still jejune passages. But the third movement, scherzo and trio, is wholly delightful.
The last Sonata is given a decent performance, but notably in the slow movement Pires fails to plumb the depths, and with so many great accounts on disc, above all those of Richter, it’s hard to see why one would prefer this, apart from DG’s lovely reproduction of the piano tone.