WORKS: Piano Sonatas, D850 & D568
PERFORMER: Elisabeth Leonskaja (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-90888-2 DDD
Schubert is one of the great pivotal composers. As these releases make intriguingly clear, he can be approached as the last of the great Classicists, bringing to a close that epoch defined and enriched by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, or he can be seen as one of the great founders of Romanticism, leading directly to the work of Chopin, Schumann and Liszt. Of the pianists represented here, Mehuhin seems the most stringently Classical in outlook, concentrating more on overall design than on the intimate inflections of foreground detail and instrumental colour. Serious and conspicuously intelligent, he has the courage and integrity to spurn the easy, ingratiating option. Many listeners, however, may find him a little austere and inflexible.
Jandó takes a far more Romantic approach, full of dramatic juxtapositions and subtle inflections but with no loss of structural clarity. In its virtuosity, its rugged angularity and its sense of incipient tragedy, this is outstanding Schubert playing of a distinctly Beethovenian stamp – an altogether commendable release in quality, quantity and price.
Listeners intent on sheer pianistic elegance can turn without fear to Dalberto and Schiff, both of whom strike a near-perfect balance between Classical discipline and Romantic sensibility: their every tone is of a pearl-like refinement and polish; their clarity and shaping of line and texture are impeccable. Indeed it might be complained by some that their playing is altogether too beautiful, that they smooth over Schubert’s rougher edges and deny him his rightful measure of emotional violence.
In overall character and pianistic approach, Leonskaja falls roughly midway between Menuhin and Jandó. Rhythmically strong, epic in scope and instrumentally commanding, she brings to her Schubert a degree of rhetoric almost Brahmsian in grandeur. Missing, to my ears anyway, is the requisite suppleness of phrase and subtlety of inflection, but her many admirers would no doubt disagree. Jeremy Siepmann