on 8 December 2014
Having been traumatised by the Ian Bostridge Schubertian Croak-Fast (why didn't EMI allocate it to Gerhard Stolze-as-Mime?), I paid scant attention at the time to the ominous fillers - the late piano sonatas as performed by Leif Andsnes. My judgement was sound. The Noonday Devil has prompted me to revisit them.
My lodestars in this domain are as follows:
D 960 - Kempff (1967). It's miraculous in its weightlessness and nullification of time.
D 959 - Perahia (more CBS than Sony) and Brendel (1987), both of whom unleash mere chaos upon the world in the Andantino.
D 958 - Kempff. With the possible exception of Staier, who else has made such hay with the finale?
D 850 - Kempff again. The slow movement and closing bars of the finale merge with eternity. How did he do it?
There is no false consolation in Schubert; nor are there any answers in the back of the book. This music should make you sweat and fearful. Our Norwegian friend, a zeitgeist gladiator, says otherwise. Scientists tell us that if you found a sea big enough, the planet Saturn would float like a cork. Andsnes' performances of DD 850, 958, 959 and 960 would join the ringed giant - and by virtue of their greater buoyancy, defy Davey Jones' Locker for longer. These are light, breezy and unimaginative accounts which skirt the darkness and shun the abyss. Anguish - a key deliverable in Schubert - is near-absent. The volcanic eruption in D 959's slow movement is less Vesuvius and more akin to One Tree Hill. Listen to Andsnes' road-runner account of D 850's finale: its hollowness is a reproach to any taxidermist. Say not that he classicizes this repertoire; that implies shallowness on the part of Mozart and Haydn, both of whom knew "the bottom". I prefer the explanation that Andsnes is a nice looking guy with a handy technique who never hogs a disabled parking spot but he's no seer or Tiresias-below-the-walls who has "foresuffered all . . . and walked among the lowest of the dead." Do we deserve any better? Probably not.
There is no greater dictator than the tyranny of the immediate. If they were to bring out "Great Pianists of the Twenty First Century", Andsnes would be allocated at least three volumes. Aglitter with diamonds, the ghost of Madame Pompadour says "Why not!"