A persuasive interpretation of Schubert’s introspective masterpiece.
SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata D. 960; Piano Sonata D. 664 in A – Javier Perianes, p. – Harmonia mundi/PIAS 902282, 62:50 (3/19/17) *****:
Schubert’s final Sonata D. 960 in B flat Major can be seen as a valedictory monument; he had, at the time of its writing, a sure sense of his imminent demise. This still doesn’t explain the many puzzling features of this great work. Constructed in four movements with conventional designations, it is uniquely unbalanced. Its massive 20-minute Molto moderato has little of the underpinnings of sonata-allegro form, instead presenting a maze of improvisatory ideas which circle back on themselves time and again as if puzzling over their implications, or more appropriate to the Romantic sensibility, wandering in search of a path. The experimentation with formlessness and even chaos in his final works takes many forms. Here, in contrast to the cacophonous derangements of the A major sonata, we have something closer to a distracted mentality, a kind of inspired amnesia.
To help imagine this first movement, picture a man walking through a verdant countryside on a spring day. He botanizes and communes with nature cheerfully enough. He has, however, no knowledge of his own name, nor even an inkling of his direction. Paths criss-cross and he wends his way indifferently through the maze. A gloomy premonition haunts him from time to time. Clouds roil up, and there is some thunder in the distance, but nothing ever comes of it. He has become conditioned to this ambiguous wandering and oblivion is the medium through which he floats.
Interpretations of this movement turn on the relative degree of sadness, puzzlement or resistance evinced by our Romantic Wandersmann. In this new release by Javier Perianes, we are asked to slow down more than ever. Our hero is genuinely perplexed and needs time to look over his shoulder. There are more mysterious pauses and nuanced diminuendos than usual. The rumbling low trills have rescinded some of their menace. Those decisive major-minor modulations are muted, treated as no more than momentary cloud shadows. This means that Mr. Perianes clocks in a 20:24 on the longest movement in the history of the sonata, a full minute and a half slower than the serene reading by Murray Perahia. This dilation of time runs some risks, but these are nicely negotiated by the pianist, whose playing is concentrated and attentive to the landscape.
The Andante sostenuto lasts half as long but feels, if anything, even more static. Again, Javier Perianes calmly measures things out, perfectly content within the Schubertian dream-time. I have never before been so aware of how crucial the pedaling is in sustaining the miniaturized melodies. It becomes a kind of rhythmic sighing and is most effective in this remarkable rendering. The Scherzo, Allegro vivace, and the final Allegro are brilliant and light-hearted; they harken back to Schubert’s earlier and most sunny periods. They are carried off with typical aplomb by the pianist.
The piano Sonata D. 664 was composed in 1817. It arose in a fertile period that also saw the metropolitan Schubert off on a happy ramble through upper Austria with a friend. There was the inevitable romantic, brief, and inconsequential meeting with a daughter of Herr von so-and-so, as good as any other inspiration for the kind of idyll that Schubert had already perfected. There are again effervescent and lively outer movements, surrounding a very tender and introspective Andante. Mr. Perianes evinces a special feeling for these ethereal slow movements. His delicacy is a thing of wonder. He must surely be a supreme interpreter of Chopin.
Harmonia Mundi has once again presented a bountiful offering here. The life-like sound of the Steinway and smart liner notes are on the same level as the fine playing by Javier Perianes.
TrackList: Sonata in B flat major D. 960 (tracks 1-4); Sonata in A major D. 664 (tracks 5-8)