Schubert: Piano Sonata in E flat, D568; Moments musicals, D780

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LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Piano Sonata in E flat, D568; Moments musicals, D780
PERFORMER: Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 470 164-2
On the face of it the E flat Sonata, D568, shows the young composer at his most blithely Viennese. For Mitsuko Uchida, though, Schubert’s innocence is already tainted by an awareness of life’s evanescence. The amiable-looking first movement here encompasses puckish volatility (the second theme deliciously airborne), but also wistful regret and, in the development, an unusual degree of passion. In the Andante molto, played as an unashamed Adagio, Uchida finds a loneliness and a confessional pathos that prefigure Schubert’s late slow movements. And even the minuet and the waltz finale are shot through with a sense of yearning and vulnerability, with the Ländler trio heard as if through a gauze of nostalgia. Not everyone will take to Uchida’s characteristic agogic hesitations here and in, say, the opening paragraph of the first movement, where the protracted cadences can impede the music’s natural flow. She is likewise inclined to linger dangerously in the Momens musicals, especially in Nos 1 and 6, the latter the slowest, most soulful interpretation of Schubert’s Allegretto I have ever heard. Certainly, if you expect a measure of charm and Gemütlichkeit in these popular pieces, then look elsewhere. But, as in the Sonata, Uchida drew me into her searching personal vision with her startlingly bold contrasts, her hypersensitivity to Schubert’s breathtaking modulations and her exquisite control of colour and dynamics (the subtlety and intensity of her piano and pianissimo surely unsurpassed by any pianist today). Forced to nominate a ‘best buy’ for these works – a particularly absurd notion in the case of the Momens musicals – I’d still incline towards the likes of Brendel, Lupu and, in the Sonata, Kempff and Schiff, less rarefied and more companionable than Uchida, and not afraid to be simple. But by any standards this is an exceptional recital from a Schubertian of unique questing spirituality. Richard Wigmore