Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata No. 19 in C minor, D958 [33:26]
Piano Sonata No. 20 in A major, D959 [44:33]
Piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat major, D960 [48:01]
Drei Klavierstücke, D946 [28:55]
Alexander Lonquich (piano)
rec. 2017, Villa San Fermo, Lonigo, Italy
ALPHA CLASSICS 433 [84:03 + 67:00]
Track one, with the first movement of the C minor sonata, is the one to hear in order to decide if this issue is for you. The stern Beethovenian opening is rather steady, and less overtly dramatised than many familiar recordings. When the E flat second subject arrives, its gentle lyricism is underlined, and for some tastes undermined, by several slight and not-so slight hesitations. These are agogic distortions heard on the theme’s first appearance, rather than the sort of rubato artists use once the main phrasing and tempo is established. Yet it sounds deeply pondered rather than spontaneous, as these effects are heard again whenever that theme recurs. Yet it certainly conveys involvement with, and affection for, the music.
In his fascinating booklet note Lonquich draws comparisons with Winterreise, and writes of that first movement’s second subject’s “apparent serenity…worn down by inner resignation, yielding in an almost physiological sense” and that’s how he plays it. Hence his is a personal view, but not a perverse or contrary one. Thus in the later part of the second movement of the same sonata the tense passage leading to ascending and descending octaves is taken deliberately, as part of a strategy which almost ‘deconstructs’ the movement (again his note is illuminating). The third movement is also a little slower than some, taking 8:03 against Schiff’s 7:44 for instance, and so too is the finale, where I felt Lonquich’s steadiness worked best. The A major sonata is maybe a more central interpretation than that of the C minor, with nothing quite as unusual in its details, but still with the same considered approach, and often with an especially songful manner, as in the lyrical start to the finale. The pianist is never eccentric, but there is a frequent sense almost of someone giving the very first performance of this music, unencumbered by any established performing tradition.
Lonquich responds best of all to the depth of the great B flat sonata, even if the relative slowness of the first subject is to be expected from him, and suggests a wary exploratory feeling, with an especially ponderous low trill. But his sustained concentration over the 23 minute playing time yields its rewards by the time we reach the movement’s peaceful close. In the following Andante sostenuto he again takes his time in a very searching reading, if one which at times almost risks losing its sense of line, so much is the weight given to each passing moment. In the scherzo and the finale all goes persuasively with some over-emphatic accents in the trio apart. The performances of the Drei Klavierstücke D946 are less individual than those of the sonatas, and delightfully ingratiating, especially in the second of them with its larger ABACA form, where Lonquich brings a Viennese lilt to the A section, but very subtly varied each time.
For exactly comparable issues of the three sonatas plus D946, there are two major recordings that have all four of these works on 2 CDs; Brendel, whose superb analogue 1970’s versions were reissued by Decca, and the 1980’s digital accounts from Pollini on DGG. For the last three sonatas, there is Schiff (Decca), Perahia (Sony) and Lewis (Harmonia Mundi). Any of these is to be preferred to this Alpha issue by the first-time buyer. But if you have one or more of those, or one of the splendid complete sets from Brendel, Schiff or Uchida, then Lonquich makes an intriguing comparison. Of course pianists do not record such music because they aim to top some critical league table, but to set down their own views on the music at a moment in time. And that is how we should view this release, as an individual and deeply thoughtful interpretation, well played and recorded, and well worth a place in the catalogue.