Schubert piano works, performed by Janina Fialkowska

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Franz Schubert
LABELS: ATMA
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 7, D568; 4 Impromptus, D935
PERFORMER: Janina Fialkowska (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Atma ACD2 2699

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Janina Fialkowska is known primarily as a Chopin performer; her playing was prized by Artur Rubinstein, the ultimate authority in Chopin playing. Listening to her in Schubert, one can see what he loved about her art, and also judge its limitations. She has formidable technique, it goes without saying, as any pianist must have in this world of cutthroat virtuosity. But she doesn’t, on the whole, choose to use it. One always remembers with her that she had a malignant growth in her left arm, and a difficult time coming back to public performance, but that when she did, her capacities were unimpaired.

There are many passages in these Schubert works which tax a pianist, not as late Romantic works do, but with their clumsy layout of the parts. The Sonata, a reworking of a previous one in a different key which the composer abandoned, is in all ways an ungainly work, and Fialkowska is hard put to it to make it convincing: as with many works of this time, Schubert is writing against his melodic gifts, almost suppressing them, and Fialkowska doesn’t always manage to make his rhetorical rather than his melodic passages tell.

It is a relief when she gets to the Impromptus D935, as lovely and radiant an account of them as I have ever heard, Schubert most at home in writing variations rather than development sections which fail to develop. It’s well worth getting this disc for them alone, indeed imperative for a lover of them.

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Michael Tanner