Schubert: Piano Sonatas (complete)

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Piano Sonatas (complete)
PERFORMER: Christian Zacharias (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CZS 4 71948 2 Reissue (1995)
Alfred Brendel’s Schubert recordings from the early Seventies present the piano sonatas as far more than mere by-products of a clairvoyant song composer. He underlines this repertoire’s intense dramatic extremes with vibrant performances whose animation seems to replicate the act of creation. Christian Zacharias’s approach is more introspective. Philippe Mougeot’s booklet notes describe each sonata as a kind of psycho-drama, and Zacharias’s perceptive delineation of the musical surface as organic process offers a persuasive confirmation of Mougeot’s narrative. However, these polished accounts sound rather restrained beside Brendel’s quasi-improvisatory alternatives. For example, Brendel’s intuitive tempo fluctuations generate added spontaneity in the A major sonata, D664, and highlight the abounding optimism of those in A minor and D major, which Schubert composed while on holiday in 1825.

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By contrast, Zacharias’s careful readings appeal more directly to the intellect. His subtly nuanced touch and sensitive feeling for line brilliantly illuminate the A major’s hidden motivic connections, ingeniously trace the developmental character of the E flat and B major sonatas (not included in Brendel’s collection) and build satisfyingly balanced interpretations of D845 and D850. Ultimately, though, Zacharias’s vision of Schubert is clearest in the remaining works. Brendel emphasises the forward drive in these pieces by omitting their first movement repeats. Zacharias includes them all, taking a more leisurely journey through the bleak landscape of the A minor, D784, and the timeless tonal space of the G major, D894. He concludes with a triumphant reconciliation of restless despair and calm resignation in the last three sonatas. Nicholas Rast