Schubert: Piano Sonata; Impromptus

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Piano Sonata, D894 (Fantasy); Impromptus, Op. 142
PERFORMER: Andreas Staler (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 9020121

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Schubert’s G major Sonata is one of the most serene of his large-scale masterpieces; it would be hard to think of another work of this scope in which all four movements end pianissimo.

There are moments in Andreas Staier’s performance when the una corda pedal on the reconstructed 1827 piano by the Viennese maker Conrad Graf comes into its own – not least, the delicate trio of the minuet, where Schubert actually writes ppp followed by diminuendo.

Staier reveals no shortage of finely-judged colours in the finale’s central episode, too, playing its lyrical major-mode passages with admirable lightness of touch, and its C minor outbursts with all the forcefulness and drama they need.

But other aspects of his interpretation are more controversial, not least his tendency, for variety’s sake, to reverse Schubert’s dynamic markings when sections are repeated, as happens in the minuet. He also shows a mannered fondness for arpeggiating left-hand chords.

In the first two of the D935 Impromptus, Staier is a little impatient, and he again tampers with Schubert’s dynamics in the reprise of the second. The famous variation theme of No. 3 is rather lumpily played; and, whether by accident or design, there’s a glaring wrong note in the melody when it’s repeated.

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All in all, then, this is a mixed bag. There are certainly more satisfying versions of these pieces to be had elsewhere: the last of Alfred Brendel’s recordings of the Sonata, for instance, and Radu Lupu’s loving accounts of the Impromptus. Misha Donat