SCHUBERT: Late Piano Works Vol 1 = Piano Sonata No. 21 in A Major, D. 959; Piano Sonata No. 4 in A minor, D. 537; Allegretto in C minor, D. 915 – Andrea Lucchesini, piano – Audite 97.765, 72:14 (6/7/19) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Recorded 10-13 November 2018, this sound document testifies to a Schubert project that currently consumes Italian pianist Andrea Lucchesini (b. 1965), perhaps the most respected pupil of Maria Tipo and winner in 1983 of the Dino Ciani International Piano Competition. Lucchesini performs his beloved Schubert on a Steinway D of a hard patina, but he softens his dynamics appropriately enough, especially in the wide-ranging first movement of the glorious Sonata in A Major.
A combination of octave leaps superimposed upon a chorale open the first measures of the 1828 Sonata in A Major, which Lucchesini performs with marked aggression. The plastic quality of the opening finds echoes near the end of the slow movement and in the broad chords in the Scherzo, whose melodic outline, including the Trio, shadow the same structure. Lucchesini applies any number of nuances and inflections to the various melodic kernels that constitute the music’s unorthodox development, its improvised character suffused with potent accents and modulations. Still, the general tenor of the music feels optimistic, confident in its ability to weather the storms and stresses of Schubert’s emotional and physical grievances in this last period of his brief life.
The second movement Andantino (in F-sharp minor) remains the most compelling movement of this remarkable sonata. Alfred Brendel characterizes the music as possessed of “desolate grace.” Another pianist, Jonathan Biss, calls it a “composed hallucination.” Its towering middle section, somewhat in the spirit of a dark Bach toccata or haunted fantasia, gravitates into C-sharp Minor, literally unnerving us after the movement’s relatively static opening. Potent sforzando chords in glaring repetition and thundering octaves eventually settle down – but only after a brutal descent in Dante’s abyss – into a sighing recitative and finds consolation in the opening melody, played in treble triplets and a cello legato in the left hand. Schubert’s sense of Manichean drama, the alternatives of light and dark, extend into the coda, wherein moments of light succumb to the gloom of the home key.
Lucchesini immediately alters the gravitas of the music with the frisky, bucolic Scherzo, though it, too, reveals moments of emotional turmoil within its laendler style. A descent of the scale, fortissimo, reminds us that grim tragedy lies beneath even the most enticing surface. Lucchesini’s brisk running scales and piquant turns of phrase maintain a sense of wistful control, no matter the beautiful illusion. The Trio section contains punctuations that seem wrought from the very stuff of the opening movement. The Rondo: Allegretto will find eventual consolation in F-sharp Major, but not before a section of emotional conflict interrupts the otherwise idyllic fluency of the occasion. Lucchesini’s tempo, broad and generous in its shapely articulation of the theme, savors his roulades and brisk arpeggios, the ringing counterpoints. Lucchesini indeed follows “the footsteps of the wanderer” in impassioned, reverent tones.
The A Minor Sonata of 1817 represents the first of six composed in that year, a sudden onrush of creative work, of which two Schubert left unfinished. The music of the second movement, Allegretto quasi andantino in E Major, Schubert stored in his memory, utilizing the tune for the rondo movement of the A Major Sonata, D. 959. The Allegro, ma non troppo, 6/8, begins in driven phrases, in thirds and dancing figures, and the secondary theme in F Major maintains and ostinato bass, something of a similar tone with Beethoven. The music develops in a manner more idiosyncratic to Schubert, rife with a sense of improvisation. Some pounding of the rhythm does remind us of Beethoven, but the harmonic language and melodic contour belong to Schubert. When Lucchesini brings the initial theme back later, it appears in D minor. The second subject has modulated into A Major, but the coda will restore the home key. The resonance of Lucchesini’s upper register shines brightly, courtesy of producer Ludger Boeckenhoff.
Schubert treats his E Major theme of the second movement to some variant adventures, gravitating into C Major and then F Major, permitting some deviation and poetic circumlocution. Lucchesini injects both lyrical fluency and rhythmic verve into Schubert’s melting, rondo figures. His detached chords have lithe transparency in what Alfred Brendel calls “an idealized dance.” Schubert integrates his scherzo motion into the finale, Allegro vivace, beginning with an ascending A minor scale. The music urges forward thrice, receiving different answers. The music moves into the major mode with a flurry of dance impulses, some of which remind us of laendler. This music, in its more tempestuous moments, releases the virtuoso in Lucchesini. The piece concludes with pounding eighth notes from the first movement, that sense of “cyclic” organization common to the Romantic composers. The last chord of the sonata fully declares a resolute A Major.
Artur Schnabel introduced many of us to the 1827 Allegretto in C minor, D. 915. Studded with minute variants and harmonic metamorphoses, the music proffers an elegiac song reminiscent of Schubert’s own lied: “Manche Traen’ aus meinen Augen ist gefallen in den Schnee,” some of my tears from my eyes have fallen upon the snow – one of the Winterreise cycle. The music vacillates between major and minor harmonies, built into symmetrical phrases, a sense of poised question and resigned answer. The final chiord does little to assuage our doubts.