Schubert: Sonata in C D840; Sonata in A minor D845; Sonata in F sharp minor D571

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Sonata in C D840; Sonata in A minor D845; Sonata in F sharp minor D571
PERFORMER: Sonatas in C D840, A minor D845 & F sharp minor D571 ; András Schiff (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 440 305-2 DDD
How many piano sonatas did Schubert write? There’s no straightforward answer because he left several unfinished. Unlike other pianists, András Schiff does not attempt to complete the movements which only survive as fragments. In his urbanely reasoned preface to the informative booklet notes he tells us why he chose to record the music on a Bösendorfer Imperial rather than a Steinway, and modestly concludes: ‘There are endless ways to approach these wonderful works and what I have done represents just the attempt of one individual performer.’

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In fact, Schiff is a consummate Schubert stylist and, at the same time, an individual artist whose own personality is revealed in almost every detail. He views Schubert as a composer with Classical roots from which sprang the fresh young growth of Romanticism. His playing is disciplined while lyrically eloquent; it’s also forthright when the music is vigorous. It is obvious that he loves every note.

Rafael Orozco’s approach is more that of a virtuoso in the later 19th-century repertoire. Whereas Schiff always keeps a measure of Olympian detachment, Orozco wrestles with his passions. Which is not to say he is indulgent or undisciplined, but there is a strangely unsettled undertow to the first movement of the great B flat major Sonata which may or may not be intentional.

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His Wanderer Fantasy is exciting, but the very resonant, distant recording takes some getting used to. Your response to this disc will depend on whether you prefer a recording to be neutral or to recreate the acoustic ambience of a particular building. Adrian Jack