Schubert: Piano Sonata in D, D850; Piano Sonata in A, D664

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Piano Sonata in D, D850; Piano Sonata in A, D664
PERFORMER: Alain Planès (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901713
None of Schubert’s sonatas has a more brilliant or extrovert opening movement than the D major, D850. The autograph score gives the tempo indication of ‘Allegro’, in two beats to the bar; but the published edition changed this – presumably at the composersuggestion – to ‘Allegro vivace’ in four beats. Whichever marking the player chooses, it’s clear that Schubert wanted the piece to be impetuous and energetic. Alas, Alain Planès’s plodding, episodic performance has no sweep to it at all; and he even relaxes his already steady tempo still further for the whole of the second subject, rather than just for the very short, capricious passage where a slower speed is indicated. The second movement again drags mercilessly; and although things improve somewhat in the scherzo, the ‘tick-tock’ accompaniment of the gentle finale is too heavy by far. Nor does the occasional smudged chord, which in a more compelling performance would be of no consequence, do the playing any favours.

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Planès actually responds much more warmly to the lyricism of the popular A major Sonata, D664, though here, too, there is no shortage of preferable versions. Richter (BBC Legends) is unforgettable, though some may find his view of the slow movement altogether too lingering; and there is also a spellbinding performance by Cherkassky (currently unavailable but sure to reappear) – every phrase stamped with his unique personality. In the D major Sonata, Clifford Curzon has long been a favourite, bringing an engaging lilt to the scherzo’s Ländler-like passages as well as a touching innocence to the finale. Misha Donat