Debargue and Darkness: Schubert and Szymanowski

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Schubert * Szymanowski
LABELS: Sony
ALBUM TITLE: Lucas Debargue
WORKS: Schubert: Piano Sonatas: No. 13 in A, D664; No. 14 in A minor, D784. Szymanowski: Piano Sonata No. 2.
PERFORMER: Lucas Debargue (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 88985465632

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Here’s a dark, wintry vision for sure (with suitably snowy cover), and the closeness of Schubert’s A minor Sonata to the aesthetic of Winterreise is abundantly clear in Lucas Debargue’s thoughtful, profoundly sensitive interpretation. He delves into Schubert’s and Szymanowski’s variously tortured souls and teases out, with velvety tone and eloquent phrasing, nuances that bring fresh insights and carry us deep below the surface. Risks abound, but they’re in the service of the music’s spirit and they pay off. For instance, tempos teeter on the edge of excess: the A minor first movement is rather slow, the finale rather fast – but it’s never too much and the progression of pace across the Sonata certainly convinces.

Pairing D784, one of the blackest of the Schubert sonatas, with one of the supposedly sunniest, D664, Debargue leaves no doubt of the latter’s illusory nature: in his hands, its translucent, longing-for-spring atmosphere can seem (appropriately) even more tragic than the icy winds of the A minor work. His touch is as singing and tender as Schubert could hope for – harsh moments arrive only if the music is harsh too.

Szymanowski’s rarely-performed Second Sonata, written in 1911, is a suitably anguished conclusion (though admittedly, a third A-based piece can start to be a little wearing on the ear). Debargue deftly carves a path through the composer’s lavish harmonic forest, with admirably vivid and powerfully articulated results. Recorded sound is excellent, close, warm and clear.

Jessica Duchen