SCHUBERT Works for Solo Piano, Vol 4 (Barry Douglas)
Barry Douglas’s Schubert series for Chandos has so far presented a blend of forms, including sonatas, character pieces and a fantasy, with a peppering of Liszt song transcriptions. Vol 4, by contrast, focuses on three sonatas composed between 1817 and 1819, a period encompassing Schubert’s return to live with his family and resumption of his teaching duties, his tenure with the Esterházy family at Zseliz and his travels with Vogl in Upper Austria.
The B major Sonata, D575, posing the greatest interpretative challenges of these sonatas, is here least satisfying. The first movement sounds tentative, as though Douglas is not quite sure what to make of Schubert’s admittedly mercurial mood and wide-ranging tonal explorations. When the E minor episode of the slow movement erupts into fortissimo left-hand octaves supported by right-hand chords, they are hammered out uniformly, without regard to the hierarchy of beats in the measure or contour of line. Later, in the finale, dynamic differentiation strikes as ambiguous. The contrasts between fortissimo and pianissimo are small and, on occasion, mezzo-fortes are construed as fortissimos, factors which affect a performance that overall seems lacking in decisiveness, cohesion and direction.
In the lovely A major Sonata, Douglas takes the Allegro moderato very broadly indeed, transforming the movement’s pert freshness into maudlin sentimentality. A sort of sogginess begins to set in, underscored by the tendency to slow up at the end of phrases and sections, a characteristic discernible throughout these performances. The lyrical Andante, where one longs for depth of sentiment, comes off as curiously affectless. The finale treads with a heavy foot, burgeoning joy replaced with a sense of duty. Unfortunately the engineers have done Douglas’s sound no favours.