WORKS: Fantasy in C, D760 (Wanderer); Piano Sonata in B flat, D960
PERFORMER: Semion Kruchin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDE 84452
Schubert’s final piano sonata has become a favourite and there are several recordings worth considering. Schubert would, perhaps, have been surprised at the reverence the work has inspired ever since Schnabel ‘promoted’ it. Russian-born Semion Kruchin isnexactly a follower of Sviatoslav Richter, whose all-time slow tempo in the first movement set a record, but he does play it as if Schubert is bidding farewell to life. With his excessive lingering on first beats and often timid touch, Kruchin seems in awe of the Sonata, and so he cannot engage emotionally with it.
When it comes to the Wanderer Fantasy there is certainly room for a good new recording that does justice to the work’s heroic grandeur as well as the searching poetry of its second section. Kruchin adopts a good, not too fast, tempo for the first section, but shows little interest in the more subtle passages. The variations of the second section lack either a sense of line or of exploring feelings. By the time of the scherzo, you will have grown weary of the hard piano tone and its unvaried colouring.
Both works are coupled on Brendel’s 1971 recording (mid-price Philips), where he plays the Sonata in a refreshingly uncomplicated, affectionate way, but, disappointingly, treats the Fantasy merely as a bravura work and hurtles through it impatiently, stinting on its epic qualities. Still worth considering, though Clifford Curzon’s 1949 recording of the Fantasy is the benchmark for architectural strength and expressive depth, and Mitsuko Uchida’s 1997 recording of the Sonata is the ultimate for magic
and mystery. Adrian Jack