Schubert: Piano Sonata in A minor, D845; Piano Sonata in E flat, D568

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Piano Sonata in A minor, D845; Piano Sonata in E flat, D568
PERFORMER: Alain Planès (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901723
The French pianist Alain Planès seems to be recording the Schubert sonatas backwards – he has already released the last five, along with the Impromptus, D899, and Momens musicals. The A minor Sonata, D845, is the last of three Schubert wrote in this key and it’s a relatively relaxed work with clear, open textures, but some frilly variations in the slow movement. In recent years it has become quite popular and crops up regularly in recitals. Yet it is by no means easy to sustain, and some distinguished pianists have sounded ill at ease in it. Planès journeys through with a firm but light tread and if he reads less into the music than András Schiff, one never feels deprived of expressive qualities.

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A stumbling block for many pianists is the omnipresent ornament in the first movement, like a catch in a cantor’s throat, which Planès plays perfectly naturally. His view of the movement as a whole is thoughtful but serene, without the touches of mystery that Schiff applies, though Planès relaxes the rhythm ever so slightly in the development section, as if he is wondering where it will take him. The variations of the second movement are deftly done, the Scherzo simple, while in the wonderfully freewheeling, slightly plaintive finale he colours just enough, then gives full strength to the forceful contrasts. If there can be a perfect performance, this is it, though devotees of Schiff and Brendel will, of course, invest in their recordings too. The sunny E flat Sonata, temporarily overcast in its second movement, is also beautifully done.