Schubert: Inon Barnatan

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Avie
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert: Inon Barnatan
WORKS: Piano Sonatas in C minor and A major, D958 & D959; Impromptu in G flat, D899 No.3
PERFORMER: Inon Barnatan
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2283

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This is superior playing, in which penetrating musicianship, compelling interpretative insight and elegant pianism achieve a near-perfect equilibrium. That said, two questions arise, neither prompting a definitive answer. Elegance and perfect equilibrium are cherishable virtues, and as such can only be welcomed. But are they compatible with the tormented darkness, indeed the well-documented emotional violence, of a dying 31 year-old, whose mental instability brought him to the very edge of reason (witness the hallucinatory nightmare that erupts in the Andantino of the Sonata in A, D959)? And is equilibrium a desirable result in the angry, tragic rhetoric of the first movement of Sonata in C minor, D958, which lurches from one mood to another?

Schubert’s violence is different from Beethoven’s, but none the less shocking for that. Schubert the lyricist, the supreme writer for the voice, is just as capable of angularity as his great mentor, juxtaposing unprecedented contrasts with unsettling suddenness. Mightily impressive as he is in the big-boned, Beethovenian struggle (particularly in the first movement of the C minor Sonata), Inon Barnatan is even more powerful in the creepy, serpentine, pianissimo slitherings that threaten to undermine the prevailing resolve. The playing is so consistently excellent that it feels churlish to complain – and complaining I’m not. The suppleness of phrase, the harmonic balances, the exquisite colouring, the choice of tempos, all these are just some of the virtues which abound here. If I have one hovering reservation about the recital as a whole, it’s that the playing is perhaps too consistently beautiful. I can think of worse faults.

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Jeremy Siepmann