Krystian Zimerman plays Schubert – Piano Sonatas D959 & D960 [Deutsche Grammophon]

4 of 5 stars

Piano Sonata in A, D959
Piano Sonata in B-flat, D960

Krystian Zimerman (piano)

Recorded January 2016 at Kashiwazaki City Performing Arts Center Art-Forêt, Japan

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: April 2018
Duration: 82 minutes



A snug fit albeit with never the suggestion of tempos being adjusted to accommodate these large-scale Piano Sonatas (Schubert’s penultimate and ultimate) on a single disc; nor is there any compromise to structure, for both of the lengthy first-movement expositions are observed.

Krystian Zimerman opens D959 boldly, the attack is weighty, gruff, and there follows a range of touch, colour and dynamics – the result is imperious, vibrant and volatile – and come the development section (which brings a persuasive increase in tempo) the clarity of Zimerman’s fingering is astonishing and musically charged; it’s as if he went into the studio and just played, although we know he is one of the most scrupulous and painstaking of artists. Some may find the opening movement of the Andantino second movement a little clipped, suggesting a troubled march, although the ripple and roar (the latter terrifying) of the central section is a measure of Zimerman’s concern for contrasts. If the Scherzo pings rather than sparkles it defines Zimerman’s masculine approach (not that delicacy is lacking), the Trio is notably expressive, and the Finale, with a gambolling gait, is fully seized of its direction; once resolution is spied it is delivered with certainty.

Zimerman’s approach to the first movement of D960 may be felt to lack serenity, a prophecy of the next world that Schubert was soon to enter (dead aged thirty-one), although poetic turns are not in short supply, and if the lead-back bars are welcomingly less cumbersome than they can be then some similar intakes of breath and a twanging pedal release initially suggested that the same exposition had been used as the repeat, although having heard Zimerman play the work live I know the repetition is integral to his approach. Although forensic comparing of the two expositions reveals sniffs and such-like are not exactly similar there is certainly an edit at 5’23”, during silence (maybe to remove a noise) and which first aroused the Sherlock Holmes in me. Zimerman presents music by a living composer expressing himself lyrically and, in the slow movement, as lonely, such desolation finding some consolation in the middle section. The Scherzo darts impishly and the Finale is of cheery heart and steadfastness.

It’s a reading of character and individuality – recommended to the dedicated Schubertian and of course to Zimerman’s fans (even more so his account of D959), but as the B-flat Sonata journeyed then some doubts crept in: sometimes staccatos can be too blunt; the forward position afforded the piano in a dry acoustic probably accounts for the very bright treble in fortissimos; and more-mysterious is the pedalled (?) effect of buzz akin to distant thunder at a few points in D960’s Finale, which is unusual and distracting, and although the annotation is silent on the piano’s manufacture, it is revealed that the keyboard is of Zimerman’s own construction. Summing up: D959 is superb, whereas D960, although of significant interest, is less clear-cut.

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