ALBUM TITLE: Schubert
WORKS: Piano Sonata in C minor, D958; Gesänge des Harfners, Op. 12 Nos 1-3; Totengräbers Heimweh,D842; Fragments
PERFORMER: Ian Bostridge (tenor), Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 384 3212
This is a very curious confection: a complete sonata, balanced by ten mostly uncompleted songs and piano fragments. Given the painfully uncompleted nature of the composer’s life this is grimly appropriate: overhung by the massive shadow of Beethoven, and starting many more works than he finished, the teenage Schubert was the archetypal heroic failure. Yet the CD works, and not just as a collector’s piece for anoraks.
Leif Ove Andsnes here deals beautifully with the Sonata itself. Part of the great trilogy written in the last two months of Schubert’s life, and in places directly echoing middle-period Beethoven, it moves from a crashing chordal declaration followed by rapid runs to a quartet-like second subject whose wistful nostalgia is quintessentially Schubertian. The work was originally written for Hummel, and though it doesn’t demand huge virtuosity, its austere lines demand finely calibrated control. Andsnes’s performance is smooth and warmly expressive, with the final tarantella going at a galloping lick. Bostridge, too, is in fine form, evincing a tremulous vulnerability in Schubert’s settings of three poems of Romantic alienation: his singing suggests a great surrounding stillness. One of the songs sounds like a dry run for the ‘Erlkönig’, with voice and piano tearing desperately along. And as Richard Wigmore’s excellent liner note observes, Schubert creates tragic grandeur out of the words of a morbidly disenchanted gravedigger.
Though these Schubertian failures may be heroic, they are not tragic: I sense no unfinished masterpieces here. When the piano breaks off in mid-phrase, the mind easily carries the music on. Fascinating to watch a great mind at work. Michael Church