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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata, Op. Post., D960 (1828) [39:05]
Du bist die Ruhe, D776 (1823) (transcr. Liszt) [6:39]
Ungeduld, D 795 (1823) (transcr. Liszt) [2:15]
Fantasy, Op. 15, D 760 ‘Wandererfantasie’ (1822) [20:53]
Barry Douglas (piano)
rec. 27-28 September 2013, Curtis Auditorium, CIT Cork School of Music, Cork, Ireland.
CHANDOS CHAN 10807 [69:15]

Barry Douglas has already embarked on a survey of the piano music of Brahms for Chandos and I’ve much enjoyed the first two volumes (review ~ review). Now it seems that he’s going to produce a simultaneous Schubert series of which this present disc is announced as Volume 1. The Brahms series has been recorded so far in Cambridge and for all three volumes to date Douglas has used the same Steinway Model D instrument. This Schubert disc brings a change of venue and piano. This recording has been made in Cork at the city’s Institute of Technology School of Music and Douglas plays on the school’s Steinway Model D.

I don’t know how many volumes are planned in this new Chandos series but Barry Douglas has plunged right in at the deep end, as it were, with two of Schubert’s greatest works for solo piano. In his excellent notes the Schubert expert Brian Newbould refers to the “sustained Innigkeit” of the B flat Sonata and that apt description certainly finds an echo in the approach that Barry Douglas adopts. His way with the first movement is very much to my taste. The music is nicely paced, being not too slow and ruminative, and it flows easily and naturally. The exposition repeat is taken. There’s strength in the playing when Schubert calls for it but the main characteristic is lyricism. I’ve heard darker performances and, depending on my mood, I might wish to hear the music in that vein but this Douglas account is very satisfying.

The lovely second movement receives a poised and nicely nuanced reading and I like Douglas’s light touch in the scherzo. In the finale his playing is dexterous and mobile and more than once he brought Beethoven’s piano music to mind. His isn’t the only way with this great sonata but it’s a fine performance which I enjoyed and admired.

Beethoven again came to mind as I listened to Barry Douglas give a powerful and purposeful account of the first section of the Wandererfantasie. The reason I thought of Beethoven was the sheer energy with which Douglas invests the music. After an expertly managed transition the second section is highly impressive. Here Schubert revisits his 1816 song, Der Wanderer D489, exploring the melody of the song through a series of variations. Douglas leads his listener very persuasively through these variations. Just as impressive is his storming performance of the fourth and final section of the piece. His sweeping account of this virtuoso section brings a fine performance of the fantasia to an impressive end. I retain my loyalty to Paul Lewis’s dramatic traversal of this piece (review) but I’m delighted to have Barry Douglas's thoughts alongside it in my collection.

Liszt was a great admirer of the Wandererfantasie to the extent that he made an arrangement of it for piano with orchestra. Therefore it’s very intelligent programming by Barry Douglas to include two Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs in this recital. I enjoyed very much his poetic rendition of Du bist die Ruhe while there’s good urgency in the way he despatches Ungeduld.

This is a fine recital and an auspicious start to this new Schubert series from Barry Douglas. Ralph Couzens has engineered a very good recording: the warmth of the pianist’s tone is well conveyed in the quieter passages but when the dynamics are loud there’s sufficient space in the aural picture to enable the sound of the piano to open up nicely. Brian Newbould’s notes are very good. I await further issues in this series with keen interest.

John Quinn

Previous reviews: Dominy Clements and Brian Wilson