Schubert: Piano Works

Author: 
Joan Chissell

Schubert: Piano Works

  • Sonata for Piano No. 14
  • (6) Moments musicaux
  • (2) Scherzos

Perhaps what I enjoyed most here was the naturalness of Pires's approach, her intuitive way of getting to the crux of the matter without any selfconscious striving for 'new light'. In the sonata and Moments musicaux she is of course up against formidable competition, not forgetting recent performances from such dedicated Schubertians as Brendel (Philips) and Imogen Cooper (Ottavo/ Harmonia Mundi). Like them, she favours a deliberate tempo for the sonata's opening Allegro giusto, sustaining it with admirable exactness even if not quite Brendel's underlying tension. Like them she also opts for a very leisurely Andante, with phrasing and shading no less eloquent than theirs even if, when returning in the left hand, the melody loses just a little of its flow because of her over-leisurely way of spreading the chords that uphold it. Her finale is just on a minute faster than from her rivals, and in the urgency of its agitation is more true to Schubert's Allegro vivace marking. But with his very pointed detail, Brendel characteristically reveals undertones just as (perhaps even more) disturbing in those restless triplets.
The Moments musicaux are played with an endearing simplicity, as if at a domestic Schubertiad rather than in one of Europe's larger concert halls. By that I don't wish to imply lack of temperament: the stabbing second F sharp minor outburst in No. 2 in A flat, the urgent forte appeal in the course of No. 3 in F minor, and the whole of No. 5 in F minor are proof of that. But there is no emotional inflation. The contrast of contrasting trio sections is achieved without drastic changes of speed. Pires is also commendably faithful to the composer's own basic tempo markings for each piece, notably resisting the temptation to linger over Nos. 2 and 6 in A flat (headed Andantino and Allegretto respectively) to make them more 'soulful'.
For good measure she also comes to the rescue of two teenage (1817) Scherzos not otherwise available on CD. Her light-fingered, teasing charm in the dancing No. 1 is irresistible. In No. 2 I wondered (for the first time in the recital) if she was over-interpreting—if Schubert's endless surprises of dynamics, key and phrase lengths should be left to tell a little more of their own tale. But that is mere critical carping. How nice to be able to end by saying that the DG recording itself does infinitely more justice to Pires's mellow fingers than anything I've heard from her on other labels.'

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