Christian Blackshaw plays Schubert’s Last Three Piano Sonatas D958-960 at Wigmore Hall

Piano Sonata in C minor, D958
Piano Sonata in A, D959
Piano Sonata in B flat, D960

Christian Blackshaw (piano)

Reviewed by: Alan Sanders

Reviewed: 19 November, 2014
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Christian Blackshaw. Photograph: Herbie KnottFrom time to time, but not very often, a musical event will take place when after just a few minutes of listening to the opening performance you know that you are in safe hands for the rest of the programme. So it was when Christian Blackshaw played Schubert’s last three Piano Sonatas at Wigmore Hall. How things have changed. Such an occasion would have been an audience-killer years ago, but now Schubert’s late and great Sonatas have rightly taken their place in public esteem alongside Beethoven’s.

Christian Blackshaw’s approach to Schubert avoids the slow, ruminative pulse of Sviatoslav Richter, or the more bracing descriptions of some latter-day interpreters. Instead he lets the music play at its natural momentum. As a result everything sounds just right, particularly in regard to choice of tempo. Now in his mid-sixties, and a pupil of Clifford Curzon, Blackshaw is a completely mature artist, who has the confidence to know that he doesn’t need to invest ‘expression’ into Schubert’s lofty creativity and vision. His innate sensitivity to the music’s changing moods, his sense of style and structure, his secure technique and glowing tone create readings that are highly communicative and command complete attention even over the longest span – and these Sonatas do have movements of challenging length.

Detailed scrutiny of Blackshaw’s renditions would be superfluous, but attention might be drawn to this artist’s priceless ability to maintain unhurried but unfailing impetus and a clear pulse over the sometimes extended course of an entire Schubert slow movement. Perhaps the implications of the word “extended” are misleading in this instance, for in Blackshaw’s hands no Schubert Sonata movement ever sounds too long (if without exposition repeats, save for D958).

Following the precedent set by Imogen Cooper in her Wigmore Hall recital of these works last year, the concert had two intervals to separate the three works. Blackshaw will have given himself time to rest between these pieces that pose considerable physical and psychological demands. At the end of the first two Sonatas the audience applauded demonstratively; after the final bars of D960 there was a tremendous ovation. Fortunately, however, those present realised that enough was enough and didn’t press for an encore. In any case nothing played at this late point in the evening could have been anything other than an anti-climax, even if given by such a fine musician as Christian Blackshaw.

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