WORKS: Piano Sonata in C minor, D958; Piano Sonata in B flat, D960
PERFORMER: Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: RRC 1049 ADD Reissue (1972)
For those who succumb to its spell, Richter’s Schubert is hors concours. On the face of it, his tempo for the opening Molto moderato of the B flat Sonata is perversely slow. Yet Richter compels with playing of unique stoical grandeur. Phrases, paragraphs are shaped in vast, ineluctable spans, underpinned by the luminous intensity of Richter’s cantabile and the extraordinary breadth and strength of his rhythms. You will look in vain for momentary charm or relaxation in this performance, even in the finale. The C minor Sonata is similarly uncompromising, with a craggy, concentrated opening movement (no hint of indulgence in the assuaging second subject) and the most demonic, terrifying performance of the tarantella finale I know.
After Richter, both Anthony Goldstone and Nikolaus Lahusen seem pretty ordinary, as would almost any other pianist. Playing on a restored 1835 Graf fortepiano, though, Lahusen reveals colours impossible to conjure from a modern Steinway. That said, his rhythmic control can falter: the triplets in the first movement are often jerky, and the constant yieldings in the development seriously inhibit forward momentum. If you want the B flat Sonata on an early 19th-century instrument, Andreas Staier’s Teldec recording is altogether more subtle and penetrating.
Goldstone’s two-disc recital will give pleasure to those who like their Schubert presented with no-nonsense directness. For me, though, these robust, clear-eyed performances underplay the vernal tenderness of the ‘little’ A major – here too emphatically projected – and the contemplative ecstasy that lies at the core of the B flat and G major sonatas. Richard Wigmore