|REVIEWS: divine art dda 21203 - Schubert Piano Masterworks, vol. 2|
This is not to say that the Uchida and Volodos discs are bad. There is some fine playing to be heard on both of them. I have never been an admirer of Uchida's - her Mozart, in particular, always sounds to me like the Mozart of someone who would really much rather be playing Chopin - but this instalment of her Schubert series, the first I have encountered, offers pianism that is clearly of a high order. The tone is often beautiful, the technique massively reliable. Yet the result is persistently un-Schubertian, mostly because every emotional point in the music is inflated way out of stylistic proportion. If you like to sit waiting with bated breath for the next note to materialise, these larger-than-life performances may be to your taste, but to my ears they are grotesque. At well over 36 minutes, Uchida's timing for the six Moments Musicaux is about ten minutes longer than Goldstone's, but the problem is not one of mere duration. Quite aside from what may be regarded as mere details (such as the failure to distinguish rhythmically between the grace-note and the normal 16 th-note in the third measure of the second Moment - the one Louis Malle used so evocatively in his film Au revoir les enfants - and the obstrusive rolling of chords that obscures the gruppetto in the trio section of the sixth), it is the vastly inflated quality of Uchida's sentiment, and her imposition of a style of rhetoric more suited to composers two or three generations later, that ruins her Schubert.
Being a pianist who has hitherto made his mark in the music of composers like Rachmaninov and Prokofiev, Volodos might have been expected to incur just that kind of reproach, but he sensibly goes in quite a different direction, refining and simplifying his manner of playing to an impressive degree. He achieves some truly magical touches in the two sonatas, and some legitimately sumptuous ones in Liszt's arrangement of "Der Müller und der Bach". Best of all is the scherzo of the G major Sonata, which is gorgeously played, and Volodos's way of slightly prolonging the third note in the main theme of the finale of that work is effective and never overdone. There are a few questionable details. Dynamics are sometimes a shade cavalier - there is no real distinction between ff and fff on the first page of the same sonata's first-movement development. Volodos rightly observes the repeat in this movement (as he does in all cases except those of da capos) - but then the small contrast of tone between the first two statements of the main theme surely ought to have been moderated in some way the second time around, and again in the recapitulation. There is a textual problem in the Andante of this sonata, where Lupu and Daniel Levy include all eight of the turns that embellish the main theme in Schubert's manuscript, and Brendel omits all but two of them. (His thoroughly convincing explanation can be found on page 149 of Alfred Brendel on Music, an indispensable collection of his essays). Volodos throws the baby out with the bathwater, dispensing even with the two for which the first print …leaves warrant. It is, however, when you compare the relatively uninflected character of this movement under Volodos's hands that the ultimately inconsequential quality of his Schubert-playing makes itself damagingly evident. Compared with the almost casual way he phrases the left-hand part, Brendel's, or Levy's, ability to make the most ostensibly conventional figure sound like a daring exploration - without ever going beyond proportional bounds, à la Uchida - demonstrates the difference between how a musical language sounds when spoken by a native and how it fares in the hands of the most intelligent, conscientious, and gifted foreigner (and I hope that it is obvious that I am speaking about affinities of spirit, not accidents of birth).
Goldstone is a native speaker of Schubert in the highest degree. Reviewing his first two-disc set of "The Piano Masterworks" …, I reported on initial disappointment that gave place to increasing pleasure, and ended with the feeling that his was "an achievement that it would be niggardly to describe as merely worthy". With volume 2, I went through a similar progression of response. There is an essential modesty, a bedrock honesty, about Goldstone's playing that can be deceptive. Aside form a rather breathlessly rapid traversal of the finale of the C minor Sonata, which suffers by comparison with Brendel's wonderfully tense steadiness in that movement, all of the performances on these two discs reach a high standard both of imagination and of technical mastery. Goldstone tends to like his tempos on the fast side, but he is never insensitive, and his impulsive willingness to take risks - for example, toward the end of the first of the Three Pieces, D. 946 - makes even a player of Brendel's perceptivity sound unadventurous, almost bland.
When we come to the late A major Sonata D. 959 "high standard" would again be a woefully inadequate term to apply to Goldstone's performance. This is perhaps the greatest version of the work I have ever encountered, either live or on disc. The first movement is magisterially paced, clarifying the distinction between long and short note-values - between, as it were, piers and spans, - that I have always thought of as central to good rhythm. In the superb Andantino - a kind of dreamlike barcarolle that veers from mourning to consolation, then to volcanic fury and back - Goldstone's command is total, the effect he creates devastating. A very fine pianist of international repute played this sonata recently in Philadelphia, and when he came to the 19 th measure, with its diminution of the dynamic level to pp and its understated shift from F# minor to A major, absolutely nothing happened - the music just went on as before. With Goldstone, we find ourselves in a trice transported to another world. After this experience, I was holding my breath, wondering whether he could maintain such a level of inspiration through the last two movements. I am happy to report that he does. The attentiveness to accents throughout, and the character with which he imbues even the simplest left-hand chords as in the scherzo, are merely two examples among many that bespeak mastery on the highest plane.
All three of our pianists are well and faithfully recorded, Uchida with the darkest sound, and Goldstone with the brightest.
Well then , what of big names? Of the four last and greatest Schubert piano sonatas, my preferred versions now run the gamut. For the G major, Daniel Levy;…. For the A major, this new Goldstone;.. for the Bb major, Stephen Hough;.. for the C minor, well all right Brendel…is still unsurpassed…………..Meanwhile I urge Anthony Goldstone on your attention with all the emphasis I can muster.
Throughout Goldstone displays a gripping sense of musical drama and structure, a natural feeling for the rhythmic ebb and flow of a phrase, and a singer's feeling for the dynamic arch of a melody. In all these respects, as well as his warm tone and his tendency to group fast notes into large impulsive units, I was often reminded of Schnabel's playing of this work. But Goldstone's finger technique seems more reliable that Schnabel's and the equal of any of the above-mentioned Schubertians. This is especially evident in the posthumous sonata in C minor, where Goldstone's clarity in fast passages is on a par with even Richter's and Brendel's - and without any of their musical "ticks" or forced sound. His tempo for the "A" sections of the finale is truly precipitous at dotted crotchet=177 (relaxed only slightly for the "B" and "C" themes).
The disc is rounded off with exceptionally subtle performances of the Moments musicaux (D780), the Drei Klavierstücke (D946), the two Scherzi (D593), the Vlases Nobles (D593), and the Adagio in E (D612). I have not heard a more impressive Schubert piano recording in recent years, including the highly touted ones by Hough, Volodos, and other artists who are much better known than Goldstone.
The two Scherzi are both delightful works, the first having a catchy tune like a waltz with the third beat of the accompaniment omitted. The Three Piano Pieces, D946 were unfinished, but completed for publication by Brahms, and to me are like a three movement sonata. The Sonata in A was the second of the three last sonatas written before Schubert died and is an undoubted masterpiece. The programme in the second disc was designed to demonstrate the propensity of Schubert to move form one key to another by a third above or below. It certainly makes a very satisfying programme. Schubert was obsessed by Waltzes and composed hundreds. The Twelve Valses Nobles is an interesting example with most being written in the grand manner. The Adagio in E is a short but interesting early work. The Moments Musicale (sic) is as deservedly well known set of minor masterpieces blended into a satisfying whole. The disc finishes with the first of the set of last sonatas which is a kind of homage to Beethoven who had recently died.
Anthony Goldstone is in my opinion an ideal interpreter of Schubert who always seems to be as one with the music, without false emphasis or exaggeration. The recording and presentation is first rate, with excellent notes written by the pianist. It is recommended without reservation.
INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW:
Yet for all the interpretative disappointments, there's still plenty to admire in these sturdy and unpretentious readings, especially in the more outgoing passages: the bright snap of the first Scherzo, the granitic intensity of the first of the three Klavierstücke, (played in the longer, original version), the cries of despair at the heart of the second Moment Musical, or the boisterous humour of the Scherzo of the A mjor. In sum, while this is probably not a good starting point for casual collectors, experienced Schubertians may find it an intermittently rewarding addition to their collections. The engineering is as honest as the playing, and the notes, by the pianist himself, are exemplary.
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE:
Comparisons are even more to Goldstone's disadvantage in the A major sonata, where his robust, firmly-projected playing short-changes the music's grandeur, mystery and - in the slow movement - desolation. Just compare Goldstone with one of the great Schubertians - Richter, Brendel, Schiff, Kempff, Kovacevich, Uchida - in, say, the codas of the first and second movements and you'll hear the difference between an accomplished presentation of the notes and a profound imaginative penetration of Schubert's visionary sound-world. Time and again, here and in the shorter pieces, Goldstone is simply too loud and earthbound. Elsewhere his rhythms can be snatched (try the A major sonata's finale, where louder tends to mean faster); and when he uses rubato it often sounds externally applied rather than growing naturally from the curve of the melody and the flux of the harmony. Those who like their Schubert presented with a certain clear-eyed detachment may respond more favourably than I do. There are certainly enjoyable things here, particularly in more outgoing pieces like the 12 Valses Nobles or either of the two Scherzos, D. 593. But in the A major sonata and the Momens Musicals ( sic ), especially, Goldstone too often creates prose where others distil poetry.
Two large collections balance out the two Sonatas on offer here. The DreiKlavierstücke, D946 is a masterpiece (the three pieces were assembled by Brahms, no less, for publication). Competition here is fierce: Uchida, Pollini and Pires of modern interpreters spring immediately to mind, in that order. Goldstone plays well, yet cannot in truth be said to hold his own in this exalted company. He takes all repeats and reinstates the second episode of the first piece, taking the playing time to half an hour. He manages to hold the attention, though. Tonally, there is some excellent work, and some lovely, pearly scales enliven the experience. The first, in E flat minor is unsettled, but not darkly so, as surely the music demands?. He captures the magical, intensely Schubertian world of the second well, though; it is in the third that he most obviously disappoints. Goldstone himself links this piece to late Beethoven Bagatelles in its unexpected twists. Perhaps a more exalted tone, a hint of another world, would have done the work more justice.
The SixMoments musicaux, D780 are, as Goldstone perceptively comments, a ‘world of subtle nuance and deep emotion’. As always in Schubert, simplicity is deceptive and above all, elusive for the performer. Goldstone is much closer to the heart of the composer here than in D946. The second piece of D780 (A flat) is especially impressive in its serenity and interior calm. Similarly, the F minor third Moment musical (F minor) is given with a lovely touch. Each, in fact, is individually characterised and yet the set has the satisfying share of a whole. The rhythmic repetitions of No. 6 (A flat) take on an affecting pathos that is really quite moving.
And so, finally, to the two Sonatas here. The C minor, D958, dating from Schubert’s last year, is linked with the Beethoven of the Pathétique by Goldstone in his notes. Certainly there appears to be some ‘bonding’ here, although the piece remains Schubert through and through. Goldstone’s overall approach is convincing. If a tad more lyricism in the first movement would not have gone amiss, there is some real sensitivity in the second (just a little more awareness of long-range thought would have made all the difference, though). The finale is the most successful part of this account, with effective imitative work (it is also taken at quite a lick, emphasising the Sturm und Drang element: QUOTE 3).
The opening of the A major Sonata, D959 is not accorded the gravitas it requires, so it blends rather than contrasts with the ensuing lyrical passage. Goldstone displays good awareness of voice-leading, but in the final analysis this does not sound like great music. The manic outburst of the second movement does not really make the unsettling effect it should. If things improve with a cheeky and light Scherzo and a carefully shaped finale, it is not enough to elevate the interpretation to the heights.
As in the case of the third volume, then, Goldstone gives us another mixed bag. Playing the discs through, one does get a rounded picture of Schubert’s genius because of the inclusion of lesser-known works, but Goldstone’s Schubert series ultimately remains a supplement to one’s library rather than a mainstay.