Schubert Late Piano Sonatas Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

The recording is refined, intimate enough but never in-your-face, and delicately...

Andrew McGregor 2003

Murray Perahia plays late Schubert Sonatas.

What - you want more? Surely that's enough to make you want to go out and buy it; I've certainly shelled out top whack for a CD on far flimsier grounds.

Alright then, let's have a go. That first bit: Murray Perahia. For years he's been one of the most thoughtful and reliable pianists on record, but recently Perahia seems to have hit a rare streak of form, even by his own exalted standards. There was all that Bach: the Keyboard Concertos, the English Suites and most recently that glorious reading of the Goldberg Variations. There was a CD of Songs without Words, and most recently some superb Chopin Studies. So when he turns to Schubert, I'm expecting the goods.

It's not just any Schubert, it's the last three Piano Sonatas from his last year alive, written amongst an extraordinary outpouring of late, even last-minute masterpieces. Schubert conceived the Sonatas as a set, and the notes make the case for a strong link with the Winterreise song-cycle that preceded them...not just for the thematic, rhythmic and harmonic links between the movements of each sonata, but also the idea that each piece is in some way inhabiting the persona of the lonely, alienated wanderer of Winterreise. It's an attractive idea, particularly when you consider the three great slow movements and their melancholy magic.

There've been great recordings of all three Sonatas, but one of the key qualities in Perahia's readings is his ability almost to remove himself from the equation. You might perhaps pick up Pollini's fabulous recordings of D.958 and 959 to hear Pollini, or Richter's extraordinary D.960 to hear Richter. You'll pick up Perahia to hear Schubert, and I promise you there's no lack of passion or emotional depth here, despite Perahia's relatively understated approach when compared to the titanic recordings I've just mentioned. There's a softly-spoken integrity here, closer perhaps to Mitsuko Uchida's humanity than Brendel's intellectual rigour, and of course that aristocratic touch and beauty of tone that dignifies every page. Perahia even makes room for wistful humour in the Scherzo of D.959, which is sometimes beaten to death by less sensitive souls.

The recording is similarly refined, intimate enough but never in-your-face, and delicately resonant, adding lustre to the gentle glow Perahia places around Schubert's sorrowful songs. And don't forget that analogy with Winterreise: maybe Perahia's Schubert Sonatas work so well because he hears the voices, and as a pianist he's simply one of the best singers.

Like This? Try These:
Murray Perahia: Chopin Études
Schubert: Piano Trios
Mikhail Pletnev: Live at Carnegie Hall

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