Schubert: Piano Sonatas, D664 & D894

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: ATMA Classique
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert: Piano Sonatas
WORKS: Piano Sonatas D664 & D894
PERFORMER: Janina Fialkowska (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ACD2 2681

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Few composers excite more intensely personal hopes and expectations than Schubert. Schubert is a new composer to Janina Fialkowska’s discography – and very lovingly played it is too. The curvaceous phrasing (always alert to the singingness of Schubert); the lovely sound (warm yet focused); a blessed lack of metric monotony (the curse of our day), the naturalness of the tempos, the unostentatious grasp of large-scale structure … all these, like Fialkowska’s trademark taste, are features to be cherished. Even at less than her best, this is one classy pianist, who renders the stratified categories of good-better-best not only simplistic but irrelevant.

Yet I do feel that these performances give us something less than the full measure of her art. I feel an unaccustomed sameness or even mannerisms in her playing – of sonority (often dominated by the pedals, especially in the outer movements of D894); of expressive asymmetry – as in speech, the definitive element of song (Schubert’s dominant metier); of breath between phrases; of conversational development through phrasing and rhythmic contour; of metrical-rhythmical precision in passage-work, à la Horowitz (notably in the finale of D664). These misgivings have nothing to do with ‘my’ Schubert. Nor may they be felt by the great majority of listeners, for whom, as for me, the virtues will far outweigh the ‘flaws’.

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Jeremy Siepmann