Schubert: Impromptus, D935; Sonata in B flat, D960

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Bridge
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert
WORKS: Impromptus, D935; Sonata in B flat, D960
PERFORMER: Inon Barnatan (pianoa)
CATALOGUE NO: 9197
Sooner or later, most pianists feel

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obliged to record the Sonata which

was Schubert’s musical last will and

testament. While Inon Barnatan

makes clear in his liner note that

he isn’t setting out to supplant

Schnabel, Lupu et al, he precedes

the B flat major with four

Impromptus which he argues

should be seen as a sonata too; and

his performance, in which they

complement each other gracefully,

lends substance to that argument.

Barnatan has an instinctive feel for

the poetry of the soprano/bass duet

in the Allegro Moderato; his tempo is

relaxed, as it is in the second piece,

whose major melody he infuses with

minor regret. But in the variations his

pace becomes so slow and tentative

that momentum and shape are lost.

What we need here is something

akin to the glowing lyricism of Radu

Lupu’s 1982 recording for Decca.

Embarking on the B flat major

itself, Barnatan’s playing has a

honeyed softness, but as the first

movement progresses, something

seems amiss. Either because he wants

to stress the left-hand line, or because

of the miking, the whole thing sounds

bass-heavy, and Schubert’s complex

structure feels askew. Paul Lewis’s

recent recording for Harmonia Mundi

makes a formidable comparison here,

with its exquisite balance throughout.

And where Lewis’s second movement

is silky-smooth, Barnatan’s plods

slightly, while his third movement

lacks the requisite mercurial quality,

and he makes Schubert’s crashing

fortissimo surprises in the finale

too crude. Yet Barnatan does give

pleasure: his sincerity charms, and

he skilfully deploys a wide palette of

colour, from pastel shades to imperial

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purple. Michael Church