Major piano works
by Schubert -
'... Lipkin understands well how to respect the silences ...'
It is tempting to claim that Schubert is never more eloquent than in his silences. They are nothing like the pauses in Bruckner, during which we wait in eager anticipation for him to gather his wits towards some new idea. Schubert's emotional concentration is such that he just needs the occasional moment to draw breath before continuing his wondrous tales. And Seymour Lipkin understands well how to respect the silences, dropping the dynamic slightly in anticipation, and then recovering with an infinitesimal gradation of tone.
The majority of the eleven sonatas on the six CDs were unpublished during Schubert's lifetime. The last three were composed only weeks before he died and had to wait ten years for publication, when Diabelli dedicated them to Schumann. Their three predecessors did indeed appear in print. Schumann rightly commended the third in G major. Its companions are a little too conscious of their responsibilities as appearing in the same city that had not so long ago completed the tally of Beethoven's thirty-two sonatas.
That said, there is a wealth of wondrous music on these discs. There is nothing smallscale about the eight Impromptus, which explore a remarkable variety of moods, including the melting tenderness of the third in the Op 90 set.
Listen -- Schubert: Andante (Four Impromptus D899, Op 90)
(Volume 1 CD 1 track 3, 0:00-1:29) © 2009 Newport Classic Ltd
The toughest piece technically is the 'Wanderer' fantasy, over which Schubert himself threw up his hands in despair. For a Liszt it was of course child's play; and he was so fascinated by its thematic transformations that he put an orchestra to it and made it a mini-concerto. It begins with Schubert's rhythmic hallmark.
Listen -- Schubert: Allegro con fuoco ma non troppo (Op 15)
(Volume 1 CD 1 track 9, 0:00-1:23) © 2009 Newport Classic Ltd
The third of the Moments Musicaux, played here with stylish élan, is remarkable in my life for converting my father to Schubert, no mean achievement.
Listen -- Schubert: Allegro Moderato (D780, Op 94)
(Volume 1 CD 2 track 3, 0:00-0:36) © 2009 Newport Classic Ltd
The first of the sonatas with which I became familiar and could manage to play is the earlier A major, just too lyrical for the theories of certain musicologists, who should always think carefully before planting a foot where angels fear to tread. Its textures would make the crudest piano sing, whether it wants to or not.
Listen -- Schubert: Allegro moderato (D664)
(Volume 2 CD 1 track 5, 0:00-1:44) © 2009 Newport Classic Ltd
In starkest contrast is the powerful C minor sonata, a key that Beethoven had made particularly his own. Schubert used it seldom, but it had produced its special tragic effect in the isolated Quartettsatz. Here it signals a consistent seriousness of intent, nowhere more striking than in the relentless drive of the finale.
Listen -- Schubert: Allegro (last movement, D958)
(Volume 3 CD 1 track 8, 0:00-1:31) © 2009 Newport Classic Ltd
Lipkin navigates its considerable demands with tautly controlled rhythm and an implacable momentum.
If the mysterious subterranean trill near the start of the final B flat sonata again owes something to Beethoven, the seraphic finale to that in A major adumbrates a Schubertian idea he had casually hinted at in the Allegro movement of the first sonata, more than ten years before.
Listen -- Schubert: Rondo: Allegretto (D959)
(Volume 3 CD 2 track 4, 0:00-2:02) © 2009 Newport Classic Ltd
Schubert was never averse to reusing his best ideas, as witness the 'Wanderer' fantasy in this set, and the 'Death and the Maiden' quartet. I envy Seymour Lipkin the chance of playing this superb music and presenting it with such evident sympathy.
Copyright © 9 July 2009
CD INFORMATION: SCHUBERT MAJOR WORKS FOR PIANO VOLUME 1
CD INFORMATION: SCHUBERT MAJOR WORKS FOR PIANO VOLUME 2
CD INFORMATION: SCHUBERT MAJOR WORKS FOR PIANO VOLUME 3