Schubert Sonata No. 20 in A
Perhaps the first thing that strikes one on hearing this release is the quality of the pianism. Not its dazzling virtuosity (with the sole possible exception of the Wanderer Fantasy, Schubert never gives house room to the show-off) but the sheer full-blooded refinement of the playing. In an age when pianistic elegance and colouristic resource would seem to be in decline – certainly at international piano competitions – it’s always a blessed relief to hear an artist with Daniel Tong’s self-evident love and understanding of the instrument. At no time is there a hint of stridency, yet there is never any want of size. Nor at the other end of the dynamic spectrum do we hear that tonal anaemia so often confused with a true pianissimo.
Alas, however, the Achilles Heel here lies in what I can only, and regretfully, describe as rhythmic monotony. Particularly surprising in a devoted and admired chamber player (and a sympathetic partner of solo singers) is what strikes me as a deficiency of dialogue and development. And this in playing music by a composer who could hardly write two bars without some subtle, often poignant, sometimes even anguished, change of emotion. This, indeed, is one of Schubert’s greatest challenges to the interpreter. Yet here, I find a surfeit of repetition, of literally duplicated inflections and accentuations, yoked to an excessively prominent and over-symmetrical subdivision at almost every level.