Notes and Editorial Reviews
Maurizio Pollini’s recordings of Schubert’s last three sonatas and Klavierstücke D. 946 earned generally good reviews upon their release in the late 1980s, then fell under the radar in face of subsequent world-class contenders. The passage of time only increases their stature. While Pollini’s acknowledged architectural rigor keeps a firm reign on Schubert’s sometimes discursive structures, his underrated feeling for tone color and expressive nuance proves no less apparent. Notice the C Minor D. 958 first movement second theme’s ruminative warmth, and the contrast between the finale’s galloping left hand accompaniment’s subtle inflections and the smooth tension generated by the right hand melody’s unaccented dotted rhythms.
The steady and carefully balanced B-flat D. 960 sonata’s long first movement contains more timbral diversity and inflection of pulse than might first meet the ear. Also pay attention to the slow movement’s gorgeously calibrated tonal gradations in the long right hand melody, anchored by a hypnotic and rhythmically spot-on left hand ostinato. The Scherzo is fleet and slightly angular in phrasing, while showcasing Pollini’s mastery of finger legato. Of the superbly played D. 946 Klavierstücke, I’m drawn to Pollini’s gently animated and flexible account of No. 2, and his understated yet insightful projection of No. 3’s syncopated phrase groupings. He favors the first piece’s standard text, omitting the extended second trio Schubert crossed out that some pianists nevertheless play (Arrau, Uchida, Pires, Hobson and Katin, for example).
The A Major D. 959 Sonata may be the prize of Pollini’s Schubert efforts. Not one of the first movement’s amazing harmonic detours and chromatic contrapuntal sequences catches the pianist unaware, and his deliberate build-up of the slow movement’s wild central climax conveys a strange yet oddly moving fusion of breadth, intensity and reserve. Interestingly, Pollini plays certain of the Scherzo’s arpeggiated downbeat chords together, giving their elfin lightness an extra spark in the process. It’s a small yet justifiable liberty. And what about Pollini’s lyrically eloquent shaping of the finale’s main theme, especially upon its return in the high register? Or how the C Minor Allegretto D. 915 curves around the barlines with a sophisticated simplicity that not only evokes Schnabel’s old recording, but arguably surpasses it? This is not the cold and aloof Pollini that his detractors love to hate, but a mindful virtuoso and soulful Schubertian.
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