SCHUBERT: 4 Impromptus, D. 935; Sonata No. 21 in B-flat Major, D. 960 – Inon Barnatan, piano – Bridge

by | Jul 11, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUBERT: 4 Impromptus, D. 935; Sonata No. 21 in B-flat Major, D. 960 – Inon Barnatan, piano – Bridge 9197, 74:50 (Distrib. Albany) ****:

Inon Barnatan (b. 1979) sports an impressive pedigree–Fleisher, Curcio, Lupu, Frank, Perahia, and Pressler–which bespeaks formidable qualifications to play Schubert, especially given the Artur Schnabel influence which saturates each of these teachers and mentors.   From the opening chords of the F Minor Impromptu, the emphasis on harmonic progression and graduated sprezzatura is at once evident in the careful pedaling and loving interplay of phrase in the A-flat Major episodes, a quality that marks my favorite renditions of the piece – in fact by Schnabel and an unlikely performer, Georges Cziffra. 

Tender, ingenuous melos tinged with regret defines the A-flat Major Allegretto Impromptu under Barnatan, a kind of ad hoc love song whose middle section offers flowing arpeggios. The familiar Rosamunde variation Impromptu emerges as a fluid study close in spirit to the Trout Quintet, alternately bold and colorful. The F Minor Allegro scherzando is all agogic playfulness and deft syncopation, all of which Barnaton traverses with light feet. Ever attuned to harmonic-rhythm, Barnatan carefully modulates the shifts in color, sparkling appoggiaturas and non-harmonic notes; strong vitality, especially in the left hand, nice una corda in the high registers. The coda gives us Lisztian bravura, a seven-octave scale in bold strokes.

An entirely softer, melancholy ethos permeates the B-flat Sonata. One might construe the sonata as a lament for the very notion of loss in this world, the grim G-flat trills being a source of existential disruption which later transfigures itself into a B-flat source of reconciliation. Barnatan creates a series of chiaroscuro periods in this magnificent piece, a Manichean struggle between the forces of light and darkness. Very sensitive, delicate phasing at the opening of the development section, the chromatic elements not so far from Bach. The 1904 Steinway used in the recording possesses a markedly burnished tone; and here, as well as in the Andante sostenuto, the cello quality of the singing line compels our reference. 

The recapitulation Barnatan plays even more intimately, Schubert whispering to Schumann and Brahms, but in his own, enharmonic way.  The tragic second movement conveys great pathos, the left hand and the use of the first movement motifs adding to the swell of regret in the arpeggios. Light and dark haunt even the otherwise elfin Scherzo; and here, Bartnatan’s touch effects quicksilver staccati. The last movement has Apollinian contours, fearful symmetry, and great delicacy. My personal model of this often passionate music remains a live concert by Lorin Hollander; but Barnatan plays with great verve and powerful conviction, never at a loss for the poetry which suffuses every bar.

— Gary Lemco

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