Schubert: Piano Sonata in B flat, D960; Drei Klavierstücke, D946

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Piano Sonata in B flat, D960; Drei Klavierstücke, D946
PERFORMER: Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 456 572-2
Uchida’s B flat Sonata is nearly my ideal rendering of this elusively tragic piece. She engages fully in the work’s intense emotional pain, while stretching the boundaries of the Classical/Romantic cusp to its limits within exquisite taste, and always with beautiful tone.

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Balance is fabulously managed, the whole poised on a knife edge between the poles of darkness and light, terror and tranquillity. Her tempi are slow in the first two movements – slower than Lupu, who also approaches the work with deep empathy and Innigkeit in his superb 1994 recording. Recorded sound complements her with just the right amount of resonance.

In the first of the Three Pieces, she includes a second slow episode that Schubert deleted (possibly with good reason) and she brings a ferocious, explosive energy to the set. András Schiff’s approach to these pieces is more relaxed, while the beauty of his tone is second to none.

Alain Planès is at his best in the A major Sonata’s tender, inward-looking moments, catching something of Schubert’s other-worldly atmosphere. But in loud passages, he is like a different player, poking at the piano with a sound that is harsh and mannered – and not helped by the dry acoustics.

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He also lacks a real sense of the ‘bigger picture’; Brendel, by contrast, creates an odyssey-like journey in this work, his final movement opening like a sunlit, triumphant Lied that suggests the resolution of all the turbulence that has gone before. In the Impromptus, Planès still does not go far enough in creating subtle moods, and there are several textual oddities too. Schiff, on the other hand, evokes atmosphere from the first note: his Impromptus are beautifully shaded.