SCHUBERT Piano Sonatas Nos 16 & 31 – Pires
‘Never sing louder than lovely’ was Dame Isobel Baillie’s advice to singers. Someone must have said much the same thing to the young Maria João Pires. The Portuguese pianist produces such a consistently beautiful, mellow sound that one is liable to be seduced by that single element of her playing. For long periods of the A minor Sonata (the last, least familiar and longest of the three Schubert wrote in that key) one might be listening to a series of songs without words.
In the B flat major Sonata, Pires does not, in her own words, ‘take hold of it at all’ as much as ‘quite simply meet it as it is’. There’s nothing of the German school here which can leave you admiring but uninvolved (Brendel, Lewis, Kempff) but an intimate, gently reassuring account as if someone were confiding a personal secret to a close friend. The long first movement gives way to an Andante sostenuto that is more berceuse than bereft. The Scherzo is an unhurried vivace and, like the last movement, never hectoring or impatient, is structurally and temperamentally merely the logical result of what has gone before.
Pires, you feel, lives in the sunshine and must surely play D960 to her grandchildren. Uchida’s acclaimed account seems mannered by comparison, though the two have serenity in common – and superb recorded sound. Even for one with a lifelong affection for Schnabel, this is a B flat major to live with and savour.