The first review here is so good that it is difficult to do more than second it. The recorded sound is first-rate - clear and full - and I was particularly delighted with the performance of Schubert's last sonata,D.960. Incidentally, the disc is very generously filled: 83 minutes, no less. To return to the music, although D.960 is a favourite piece it is rare to find a fully satisfactory one like Pires's. Even Radu Lupu's version seems a little cold and unspontaneous in comparison. Pires has an unlimited range of tonal shadings and knows exactly how to time a pause while keeping the music flowing. More than ever before, I was made aware of how close this work is to the world of "Die Winterreise". The bleakness and tragedy of the first two movements and the finale are even more striking when set against the delightful, sparkling dance of the third movement.
This is beautiful. In the past I wasn't much of a fan of Schubert's piano music--i.e., I was blind (or deaf or something). For the D960 sonata, I had made various attempts during several decades of listening to classical music with different pianists from Schnabel to Lupu and others, but none made a dent. After a long hiatus, a friend recommended this, pointing out in particular its "singing" quality (his other favorites include Richter). Having listened a number of times now, I can confirm the singing, flowing quality, along with a complete naturalness of utterance and phrasing. I can't give a movement-by-movement comparison here, other than to say that this sounds wonderfully right to me, and in good recorded sound. Highly recommended.
Maria Joao Pires is a remarkable Schubert player, in fact I think it is in this composer that she has made the strongest impression, at least on me. Her Mozart and Chopin are wonderful, but Schubert brings out that mixture of shape in the phrase and intensity held over long note values that set her apart, really. I loved her recording of the D. 960 from Erato in the late eighties, along with some two piano music with the sorely underrated Huseyin Sermet, and, perhaps most memorably of all, a version of the G major sonata D. 894, where her control of the intensity through those long phrases, just rocking between two chords, was something quite unheard-of to my ears. I think I will always recall the compelling beauty of that recording as a high point in my own discovery of music. In this new recording she takes me straight back into that world; the A minor has a beginning I struggled to get any poetry into at all in my own fumbling efforts, yet Pires takes out the staccato, lets it gently trail away like an unconscious gesture ending in a kind of dissolving of the tempo, but not enough to undo the sense of the work opening, of everything being to come. It is quite extraordinary. The beauty she attains throughout is something to marvel at, without any grandstanding, yet with a sense of power coming though her conviction in this music, both rapt and reserved. Rhythms are exquisitely sprung, often at a leisurely tempo as in the scherzo of the same sonata. There is a kind of fullness in the balancing of chords that sometimes gives a sense of a kind of opaqueness, particularly where the music is loud, say in the outbursts in the last movement of the B flat. It's as if she is struggling to get round the notes, and the slight sense of congestion is more expressive than any amount of barnstorming. Pires has a way, a little like Clara Haskil, of getting round limited physical command of the instrument that yields great power in its own terms. At other times she opts for quite a fast tempo, such as in the last movement of the A minor, after a trio in the preceding movement of a wondrous dreaminess. And at the start of the B flat the tune emerges as absolutely right, and beautifully poised between melodic blossoming and resignation before it's hardly got started; the second subject touches the sublime, at a fractionally slower tempo than you often hear. This CD is really a joyous experience from one of the most striking and soulful pianists on the planet!