Schubert: Piano Sonata in A minor, D537; Piano Sonata in A, D664; German Dances, D820 & D790

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Piano Sonata in A minor, D537; Piano Sonata in A, D664; German Dances, D820 & D790
PERFORMER: Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 470 265-2
More Schubert from Uchida – and, once more, performances that are immediately distinctive, distinguished and characterised by her almost palpable empathy with the melancholy, shadow-side of the composer’s sensibility. But in these two sonatas I found her tendency to hesitate ‘expressively’ at the start of a phrase, to indulge in moments of rubato just when one longs for the music to sing on uncontrivedly, both mannered and at times obstructive.

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In the central movement of D537, for instance, this tendency combines with an over-clipped left-hand staccato to make Schubert’s tender theme sound ill at ease. And in the corresponding movement of D664 one longs, too, for a greater clarity of recorded sound. Back to D537, and Uchida succeeds well in fusing the driving rhythms of the opening with a lilt straight from the Vienna woods; and I enjoyed the impassioned, impulsive quality of her scalic energy in the finale. But, again, in the finale of D664, Uchida’s rubato impedes rather than enhances the momentum. Despite some high-fibre counterpointing, and attractively headstrong episodes, there is simply too much pianistic mopping and mowing here for my taste. This tendency to mannerism is less damaging in Uchida’s vividly characterised German Dances.

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From the point of view of recording quality and interpretative interest, the obvious benchmark is András Schiff. In both sonatas he is disarmingly direct and clearer of speech, balancing touch and tempo with an art that truly conceals art. The sound is more clearly focused, too – and Schiff faithfully performs all the repeats as well. Hilary Finch