ALBUM TITLE: Schubert
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 19 in C minor, D958; 4 Impromptus, D935
PERFORMER: Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: AM 214
Following the dark opening bars of Schubert’s C minor Sonata D958, it’s customary that the answering cantabile theme should feel like balm on the wound. Nikolai Lugansky will have none of that: in his powerful hands, the second theme has little trace of tenderness, just bitterness through and through. There’s no eagerness or hope in the development section, just an affirmation that this will be a journey through a bleak and comfortless land.
There’s a contrast between the playing of this movement and of the Adagio, whose repeated triplets create a dreamlike momentum. Yet its dramatic effects are muted, as they are in the Menuetto with its broken-off phrases: Lugansky resolutely refuses to accept the score’s invitation to contrast gravity with mercuriality. And as he plays it, even the cantering final Allegro becomes a pretty solemn affair: only in the middle section do the clouds roll away to admit some light; what almost all other pianists turn into a concluding frenzied scamper is here rendered in strict time.
This account of Schubert’s late, great sonata may be austere, but it has majestic integrity. And if the first of the posthumous Impromptus inhabits the same sound-world, that’s because the score permits no other interpretation. But when the Lied-like second piece in the set emerges equally dour, one starts to wonder if Lugansky will ever take us somewhere less monochrome. And the answer in the third Impromptu is a triumphant yes, as he rings the changes on elfin charm, peasant-dance gusto and eloquent lament. The final piece becomes pure liberation, as Lugansky lets its wayward impulses carry him where they will.