ALBUM TITLE: Schubert Piano Sonatas
WORKS: Piano works
PERFORMER: Maria Joao Pires, Ricardo Castro
CATALOGUE NO: 477 5233
The idea is original: two pianists, each
offering a Schubert sonata, and then
combining in three of his greatest
works for piano duet. Few duos
match the refinement of Maria João
Pires and Ricardo Castro; and if you
see the F minor Fantasy primarily as
a work of elegiac resignation, their
fastidiously prepared performance
is as rewarding as any. For my taste,
though, they tend to smooth the
music’s contours, using an exquisite
but limited palette of colours and
dynamics, and softening the anguish
that other pianists, including Lupu
and Perahia (Sony) and Eschenbach
and Frantz (EMI), find in the music.
I enjoyed the other duet works with
fewer provisos. The opening of the
Allegro in the Lebensstürme may be
less tempestuous than some; but few
duos shape the major-keyed music
with such luminous grace. Pires and
Castro are in their element, too, in the
assuaging lyricism of the Rondo.
With her limpid textures, intense
singing line and sensitivity to
harmonic flux, Pires is almost ideal
in the genial A major Sonata. Only
the finale struck me as a touch dainty.
The relative disappointment here is
the bleak A minor Sonata of 1823.
For all its pianistic finish, Castro’s
interpretation is too generalised.
Fortissimos in the orchestrally textured
first movement have none of the
torrential force conjured by pianists
like Ashkenazy (Decca), Brendel
(Philips) or Richter (Olympia), while
in the Andante Castro, typically, fails
to vary his tone between the main
theme and the mysterious unison
interjections, marked ppp con sordino.
The set is certainly worth investigating
for the duos, and for Pires’s
performance of D664. Not, though,
for the notes, a ludicrous farrago
of poorly translated psychobabble.