Schubert: Piano Sonata in G, D894; Moments musicaux, D780

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Piano Sonata in G, D894; Moments musicaux, D780
PERFORMER: Alain Planès (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901697
Schumann spoke of Schubert’s ‘heavenly length’, and the G major Sonata is almost as spacious as Schubert’s last piano sonata, in B flat, which he completed two years later. The gently rocking motion of its first movement is particularly difficult to get right, and to sustain, while the good humour of the easygoing finale easily degenerates into blandness. Alain Planès strikes judicious tempi in all four movements and yet he doesn’t sound really comfortable. In the first movement he contracts or eases the rhythm in a way that seems fidgety rather than natural, while in the demonstrative second section of the Andante second movement, the trill is less like an ornament than a snag. The recording is admirably clean, and yet the piano sound is thin and shallow and on this evidence you may be forgiven for thinking Schubert wrote meagrely for the instrument – though, of course, he wrote for a different sort of piano from the modern concert grand. On her Philips recording, Mitsuko Uchida reveals how wonderful this sonata can sound on today’s instrument, and she explores a wealth of orchestral colour as well as depths and distances of expression which Planès never suspects.

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In the six Momens musicals Planès is equally plain. In the short third piece his simplicity is quite apt, and his unusually fast tempo in the fifth is certainly bracing. But the repetitiveness of the remaining pieces makes one long for the sort of expressive probing which Radu Lupu brings to this well-known music. Adrian Jack