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Schubert: The Last Three Sonatas / Gabriel Chodos

Schubert / Chodos
Release Date: 06/28/2011 
Label:  Fleur De Son   Catalog #: 57995  
Composer:  Franz Schubert
Performer:  Gabriel Chodos
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUBERT Piano Sonatas: in c, D 958; in A, D 959; in B?, D 960 Gabriel Chodos (pn) FLEUR DE SON 57995 (2 CDs: 126:37)

In his appealing booklet notes, Gabriel Chodos writes, “For many years it has seemed to me that these three sonatas … represent three different reactions to death and mortality. The C-Minor Sonata represents anger and terror; the A-Major Read more Sonata is a glorious affirmation of life; and the B?-Sonata represents the final resignation and acceptance.” Chodos adds that “these performances are offered as an homage to the memory of someone close to me who recently passed away.”

I requested this release because I had been listening to these three sonatas so much lately, not because I had any idea about who Gabriel Chodos was. It turns out that his name has appeared in Fanfare several times since 1998, when Bernard Jacobson reviewed (positively, overall) an earlier recording of Schubert’s D 960 Sonata on the Centaur label. More recently, in Fanfare 28:6, Jerry Dubins called a program of Schubert’s D 894 Sonata and Brahms’s op. 76 Klavierstücke “one of the finest solo piano discs I’ve heard in some time.” I read these reviews, and others, after auditioning the present CDs, and I was comforted. One of my faults is that I can be too enthusiastic too quickly (I think it’s an admirable fault, though!), so I was pleased that I was not out in left field for liking these performances, recorded in 2008, as much as I do.

Chodos studied with Aube Tzerko, who in turn studied with Artur Schnabel. He teaches at the New England Conservatory, and chaired its piano department for 25 years. He appears to be one of those musicians who never has chased fame, although, on the basis of what I am hearing here, it has been his to acquire. I’ve recently been listening to Maurizio Pollini’s Deutsche Grammophon recordings of these three sonatas, and Chodos’s performances are every bit as good, if not better, at least in some ways.

Whether or not I buy Chodos’s premise, stated in the first paragraph of this review, I am struck by how the pianist emphasizes the differences among these three sonatas and yet, at the same time, links them with one another. Sometimes commentators speak casually of these three sonatas as a trilogy; as a performer, Chodos goes into this more deeply. With so many alternative recordings of these sonatas available to today’s listeners, it would be foolish to claim that Chodos’s recording of any one of these sonatas is “the best.” Nevertheless, if you consider these three sonatas as a single tripartite structure, Chodos now would be the first pianist to come to mind, if I were asked to make a recommendation.

Don’t be fooled by the driven, intense opening of the D 958 Sonata—that’s only part of the story for this pianist. It’s a gripping performance, and one that will be a little too dramatic for some, although Chodos’s drama is more existential than showy and external. Reviews of this pianist’s work usually mention his slow tempos, and these come to the fore, daringly so, in the D 959 and 960 sonatas. For example, the second movement of D 959 is, arguably, no Andantino. Chodos plays it like a mournful pavane and gives it a Bach-like breadth. Slow tempos dominate the last sonata; Chodos’s timing in the first movement is 23:39, and 13:21 in the second. In contrast, Pollini’s corresponding timings are 18:57 and 9:42, and Kempff’s, also on DG, are 21:10 and 9:16. Chodos’s use of silence is just as telling as his use of sound. Of the first page of D 960, he takes a long pause after the trill in the bass, as if he is not sure whether or not he is emotionally able to continue. I thought this might become affected after repeated listenings, yet this has not been the case. Chodos’s sensitivity is such that he constantly shapes and nuances the music without breaking Schubert’s lines or coming across as precious or as an interventionist. I might call this playing on a tightrope, although I don’t hear any ego in Chodos’s musicianship. Dubins compared Chodos’s Schubert to “a surreal dreamscape,” and the simile is fitting. There’s nothing run-of-the-mill about it.

No one who loves these works should pass these recordings by simply because they are not familiar with the pianist. This release serves as a reminder that we, as listeners, should never get overly caught up in the Big Name mentality. If we do, we risk missing out on great things.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Piano in C minor, D 958 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Gabriel Chodos (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria 
Sonata for Piano in A major, D 959 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Gabriel Chodos (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria 
Sonata for Piano in B flat major, D 960 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Gabriel Chodos (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria 

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