Piano Sonata in E, D.157
Piano Sonata in G, D.894
Schubert arr. Liszt
Der Muller und der Bach (Die Schone Mullerin, D.795)
Arcadi Volodos (piano)
Reviewed by: Mark E Croasdale
Reviewed: April 2002
CD No: SONY CLASSICAL SK 89647
Volodos begins with a marvellously understated and unaffected performance of the unfinished sonata in E major. He follows the natural flow of the humorous melodic line and does not try to make any grandiose statements. Dynamically, although he always manages a fulsome pianissimo, he rarely follows the fortissimo indications, at least in the opening ’Allegro ma non troppo’ ironically in the quiet and sombre ’Andante’ he achieves this instruction through effective use of the una corda pedal. This is the pick of the three movements. Volodos maintains the feeling of isolation without varying the tempo. His is masterly playing of legato against staccato, and his right-hand chordal technique with its hushed afterglow is glorious.
The G major sonata is the main work on this disc. It is the real test of Volodos’s credentials as a Schubert interpreter. The music is expansive and requires the performer to be attuned not only to subtle changes in thematic content and mood but also to time and space.
Schubert’s rhetoric develops over long periods and artistic taste is required not only to highlight key moments but also to execute slight variations in tempo or shade the colour to match the mood of a particular phrase. The introductory sustained chords are quietly weighted and benefit from a slower tempo, which even gives time for a hint of vibrato. Volodos is usually a good deal subtler in his choice of tempi: the nuances arise within phrases rather than dominating them. For example, he pushes the tempo judiciously at the beginning of the first movement development section where the hands imitate one another in octave scales. The brighter colour and change in tempo imbue the music with an anxious quality, which up to this point have been placid rather than restless.
There are moments though when Volodos is not attentive to the music’s demands. In the fourth movement, he plays right-hand flourishes perfunctorily by maintaining the tempo and, a little later, dashing off an unmarked and clichéd change in dynamics from forte to piano in the transitory passage of scales. This signals his very wide dynamic vocabulary and he needs it – the first movement alone is marked between triple pianissimo to triple fortissimo! On the whole Volodos is completely assured and even in the loudest passages the sound and his composure never falter, excepting the beginning of the first movement development. Volodos has a conception of the music not determined by technique alone. That said, his sudden diminuendo in the melodic interlude between arpeggiated chords in the ’Finale’ is a shade too romantic and, at that moment, he muffles the right-hand chord underlying the melody to change the harmonic effect from C to D. Some well-judged use of the sustaining pedal gives the third movement ’Trio’ rusticity but does not cloud the inner melody, which is sensitively articulated. The question and answer melodies in octaves from the ’Andante’ are remarkably clear and typify a very fine performance from an artist who has given considerable thought to his playing.
The CD closes with a performance of Liszt’s transcription of the penultimate song from Schubert’s ultimately tragic song-cycle. In a few moments Volodos encapsulates a plenitude of technical and melodic invention, which exemplify his recital as a whole.