SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960; Allegretto in C Minor, D. 915; Six Moments Musicaux, D. 780 – Joshua Pierce, piano – MSR Classics

SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960; Allegretto in C Minor, D. 915; Six Moments Musicaux, D. 780 – Joshua Pierce, piano – MSR Classics MS 1204, 75:31 (Distrib. Albany) ****:

Two generations ago this all-Schubert recital would have been one by Artur Schnabel. Joshua Pierce, a pupil of Artur Balsam, Robert Goldsand, and Victor Babin, plays the posthumous B-flat Sonata (1828) in a literalist, non-pedantic style, with a fine sense of the dramatic rumbles and pauses that afflict Schubert’s pointed thoughts on emotional loss. If Pierce’s playing reminds me of anyone else’s, it is Claude Frank. Pierce handles the agitated triplets and harmonic shifts in the first movement smoothly and on a large scale, although his tempi for me are occasionally too fast. The low, grumbling trill takes us to a repeat, and we again explore the modulations to G-flat, F-sharp Minor, and F Major. Pierce evokes a high, tense singing-line, and he projects the intricate left-hand bass harmonies without forcing them.

The development section has sparks flying, the music bouncing back and forth in modalities of C-sharp, and the bass trill has become a major character in the dialogue. The lovely Andante sostenuto proceeds as a semi-march with harmonized thirds, Pierce attentive to the enharmonic moves Schubert likes to make in order to change tone colors. The A Major spun-out melody by Pierce quite sings a song worthy of Keats. Brisk may breezes for the Scherzo, a tad frenetic but guided by a strong sense of (syncopated) pulse. The Allegro ma non troppo, a rondo-sonata form taken from Haydn, enjoys a plastic rhythm and a veritable array of piano colors, always delaying by ever-devious means the resolution of the music into the tonic B-flat. When Pierce wants the golden hammer, he uses it, only to transform the percussion into silver bells.

The 1827 Allegretto in C Minor is a lament for Schubert’s friend Ferdinand Walcher. An extended song-form, the piece combines classical procedures and a wealth of personal anguish, some of the affects clearly beholden to Beethoven. The A-flat middle section, by Pierce, has a poignant, dirge-like character. The set (1828) of six Musical Moments is likely a publisher’s ploy, since the works originally appeared somewhat separately. Pierce applies a conscious yodel effect for the opening C Major, a pert dialogue that wanders between major and minor as far afield as E Minor. Loveliness for the A-flat moment, perhaps the most innately lyrical of the set. Pregnant pauses, an outburst of passion, and attention to harmonic colors set Pierce’s rendition along some fine realizations, not the least of which is that by Rudolf Serkin on CBS. A bit of ritard for the F Minor Russian Air, which likes to bounce to A-flat when it can. Its perky figures wax to an extended coda which has bright F Major smiles. My favorite, the C-sharp Minor (especially by Serkin), is Bach in 16th notes, played a mite pesant here by Pierce. The darker, marcato effect works well in the D-flat trio. The second F Minor Moment is a battleground, not too far away from the emotions of Der Erlkoenig. Carillon-like punctuations and visceral sforzati from Pierce. Pain and song unite once more for the conclusion of the set, A-flat. Pierce points up the apoggiaturas that help sustain the tension of this melancholy ode.  I note that the performances were recorded 20 July 1996, though I do not think this MSR disc is a reissue. 

–Gary Lemco

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