Schubert: Piano Sonata No. 4 in A minor

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 4 in A minor, D537 & No. 13 in A, D664; Fantasy in C, D760 (Wanderer Fantasy)
PERFORMER: Eldar Nebolsin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572459

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The Sonata No. 4 in A minor was the first work of its kind that Schubert carried through to completion. He never saw it in print, which perhaps explains why he felt no compunctions about salvaging the theme of its slow movement more than a decade later for use in the finale of his great Sonata in A major, D959.
 
The challenge to the performer in the earlier work is to sustain interest in the extreme simplicity of the keyboard writing in what is quite a lengthy piece. This is especially true of the march-like middle section, with its left-hand part in regular staccato quavers, which needs to be held at a virtually unbroken pianissimo through two substantial repeats. The Uzbekistani pianist Eldar Nebolsin makes things harder for himself by adopting a tempo that’s on the steady side, but his performance is admirably restrained and eloquent. He gives a beautiful account of the more popular and lyrical Sonata No. 13 in A major, too, producing playing of effortless warmth and musicianship.
 
Nebolsin is not quite so convincing in the Wanderer Fantasy, where it’s possible to feel that the climax of the slow movement (whose famous song quotation gives the work its nickname) is just a touch too civilised to convey the music’s unruliness and its sense of anguish. Nebolsin’s curiously slow tempo for the scherzo, too, means that it fails to scintillate as it should. But he is clearly a pianist to watch, and the two Sonatas are really impressive. Misha Donat