Schubert: Piano Sonata in G, D894; Piano Sonata in B, D575; Piano Sonata in A, D959;Piano Sonata in B flat, D960

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LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Piano Sonata in G, D894; Piano Sonata in B, D575; Piano Sonata in A, D959;Piano Sonata in B flat, D960
PERFORMER: Alfred Brendel (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 456 573-2
Brendel’s famous likening of Schubert to a sleepwalker hardly applies to his own playing. While leaving himself open to surprise he is nevertheless an interpreter with powerful convictions, who manifestly knows exactly what he’s doing and where he’s going. His sense of structure is so powerful, in fact, so intently directed, that it can be a mixed blessing in the music of an inspired somnambulist. Brendel is widely considered to be the greatest living pianist (a limiting concept to which I’ve never been able to subscribe in the first place). The fact that these are all performances of enormous distinction makes me feel uncomfortably diffident in voicing such misgivings as I have (though I’m happy that none of Brendel’s global admirers will be deterred in the slightest by my reaction, or anyone else’s). In the first two sonatas, however, I have certain reservations which I can’t shake. One concerns the overall sonority, which I find generally unbeautiful and over-projected (not forgetting that these are ‘live’ concert performances, where a good deal of projection is of the essence). Another, more occasional, is what strikes me as a certain over-metrical subdivision which sometimes impedes the continuity and suppleness of line. But perhaps I’ve too recently listened to Wilhelm Kempff, whose tonal palette and multi-layered rhythm, in the same works, are little short of miraculous. In the latter two sonatas I capitulate entirely (especially in the A major, though I’ve never heard the B flat’s tragic dimensions captured more affectingly). Here intellect, intuition and inspiration seem to me in perfect balance. Jeremy Siepmann