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Customer reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Schubert: Piano Sonatas
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on 21 August 2014
Unfortunately, Barenboim's Schubert set has not met my expectations. I really wanted to like it, but by and large Barenboim seems to miss a certain inwardness and simplicity of expression that are essential in Schubert.

The great G Major Sonata (D894) is a case in point. The first movement sounds disappointingly prosaic. Barenboim rarely achieves a true pianissimo and plays mostly at a comfortable mezzo-forte. By the exposition repeat, he just sounds as if he's on auto-pilot without making any effort to differentiate anything. The minor key climax sounds rushed, and in general there's a feeling of heaviness about the whole movement, which is strange in Barenboim's comparatively brisk tempo. The slow movement is bland, the Minuet doesn't really dance, and the finale features some really wayward playing. It sounds as if Barenboim is determined not to let the movement achieve any sort of momentum with his mannered rubato and random phrases hammered out for no discernible musical reason. On the whole, this Sonata ends up sounding like second-rate Beethoven.

The early works disappoint too. In this case, I wouldn't be surprised if Barenboim, with his busy schedule, didn't have the time to properly internalise the pieces. They seem to lack ideas of how the music should go besides random rubato here and there and, like in D894, chords and phrases pounded out for no apparent reason. The early A Minor (D537) and the B Major (D575) are especially susceptible to these mannerisms it seems. They just pass by uneventfully and blandly. If we listen to Michael Endres or Alfred Brendel in D575 we're in a different world entirely for example - they unlock the work's playfulness and innovation in a way that Barenboim doesn't.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Barenboim is better in the D Major Sonata (D850), which is the most extroverted and outgoing work in the set. The directness of expression that seems to elude him elsewhere is there right from the beginning, which patiently builds to climaxes and has a proper symphonic sweep. I'm still not overly enamoured by Barenboim's rubato, especially in the middle section of the slow movement and the minor-key episodes of the finale, but overall it's largely a convincing intepretation.

The great A Minor Sonata (D784) is also not bad, but at certain key points it sounds overly cautious. Barenboim does not generate the same kind of drama and inevitability as Richter (in his live recording on BBC Legends), Uchida or Brendel do in their different ways. The same applies to the A Major (D959): the overriding feeling is one of blandness, as if Barenboim does not have particularly strong ideas about how it should go. The heart-breaking theme of the Andantino is sung very well, but the shattering climax is not given its full due. Again Barenboim sounds overly cautious for some reason. I have to say overall that, if I were listening to these recordings blind, I'd have concluded that the pianist hasn't internalised them properly and that he or she needs to properly spend some time with them. Barenboim just applies the same 'one size fits all' style and the results are very generalised and uninteresting.

There is, however, one important exception: Schubert's last Sonata (D960), whose first movement especially is played really beautifully and with no hint of mannerism by Barenboim. I don't think it's a coincidence that, of all the Sonatas here, this is one that has been in his repertoire for decades now. Indeed he has recorded it previously for DG (in 1980 I believe) and this recording is an improvement in every respect. For starters, he now plays the exposition repeat of the first movement and the astonishing linking passage associated with it. Barenboim plays the main theme relatively 'straight' but with beautiful dynamic shadings and a firm but unobtrusive bass line underpinning it all (where was that in the earlier Sonatas?). He phrases melodies really lovingly, as is evident in the breathtaking development section, and the beautiful rolled chords in the coda. Perhaps he plays some sections a bit too lovingly, as when he lingers over certain phrases in the Andante, but this is a welcome change from the blandness of the other Sonatas. The only relative disappointment is the Scherzo, where Barenboim occasionally overdoes the rubato and it sounds a bit choppy as a result.

If this album contained only the D960 Sonata it would merit at least 4 stars for sure. However, it saddens me to say that most of the rest fails to capture Schubert's spirit and cannot be recommendable for a comprehensive overview of Schubert's Sonatas.
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on 15 September 2014
I agree with Elpenor. As I hear it, this is a polished and professional sight-read by an old hand. Schubert's sonatas are less public utterances and more like pensées, personal revelations and keepsakes. Internalisation is all important in this domain. Here, it's in shorter supply than Rare Earths. Consider the development in the first movement of D 784, written at the time when Schubert contracted red spots on his undercarriage. It's one of most terrifying passages in music. Eventually we all behold the Paler Rider; this is Schubert's moment of terror, born of the realisation that he himself has catalysed doom, an event-horizon is at hand and there's no escape from the nothingness. It warrants a visceral response in the very least. Here, how comfortably Barenboim skirts the abyss. Indeed, it's remarkable that an artist of his reputation could so capitulate at this juncture - the French in 1940 put up more of a fight. It's not even a failure of nerve as that implies he's measuring himself against this demonic utterance. And what of the finale of the same sonata? Should it not be a remembrance of things past rather than a quirky rondo of sorts? I don't understand this. Moreover, these faults are characteristic of the wider set where blandness and faux-angst are regnant. Name the keystones - say the developments in the first movements of D 845 or D 960 or the self-contained episode in the finale of D 958: not once does Barenboim bet the house. One has to ask: does this music actually mean anything to him as a homo sapiens?

Compare this set with Kempff, Richter and the best of Brendel (say, the 1987 cycle) and it makes one wonder if Barenboim, lord of domains and master of none, has reached the limits of shunt. Could it be time for another New Year's Eve Concert in Vienna, aglitter with tinsel, bon-bons and streamers aplenty?
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on 14 January 2015
I asked for this as a birthday present and I like it.

I don't think Barenboim is interested in finding a "style" for an individual composer (I've never found his Chopin very idiomatic) but what you get from him is razor-sharp chord balance, colour and a strong grasp of architecture. Tempi here are outstandingly good. He takes the music seriously, and if that means taking a bit of the lilt out of it, and not wearing his heart on his sleeve, there are plenty of things here which go much deeper. The big, bold, close, recording sound doesn't belong in the salon of the Schubertiade.

His Bach Well-tempered Klavier ten years ago for Warner is similarly motivated; in his notes, he writes about the importance of harmonic movement and the symphonic element in piano music-perhaps that is reflected in Schubert's move to the four-movement piano sonata.There is a more lyrical and emotional way of playing Schubert; but Barenboim sees this music as not so much expressive of a personal suffering as articulating universal experience. And isn't it the case that great music doesn't dramatise; it transmutes?

Fortunately, there's room for the less subjectively intense (for instance, Kempff, Pollini, Goode, Pires, Perahia, Barenboim) and the white-hot (Argerich, Berezovsky, and many of the younger Russian pianists). I would hate to be without any of them. With the exception of the wonderful Martha Argerich, the majority of pianists seem to take the same route as Barenboim, as they get older; their interpretations become less composer-specific. We shouldn't criticise them for that.
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on 30 November 2014
Barenboim brings the originality and freshness of his master interpretation to Schubert's piano sonatas thus turning attention to

these unique personal works some of which are unjustly rarely performed.

This is a performance that brings out the deep and intimate nuances of these treasures without missing the individual spirit of

each movement and sonata.

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on 19 August 2014
Early days but I'm finding it hard to find any fault. In fact, these new recordings could be up there with the very best. No joke! His touch is remarkable in its gentleness and force - a very good balance, rather than stroking the keys one moment and then trying to smash them the next (as quite a few Schubert interpreters do). Schubert packs so much mixed emotion in small passages its hard not to get carried away but easy to fall into exaggeration. Barenboim has turned to the Schubert's Sonatas late in his career but you can tell that he knows them well. These are elegant performances from a wise old master. Nowhere does he attempt to hide any of the genuine sadness in the late works and they are laid bare. There is a sense of indulgence in places (such as the D958 Adagio) and this can give some parts a more romantic feel but this doesn't sound like idiosyncrasy to me, more like empathy. The sound quality is big and warm.

He really sounds like he's treasuring every note and mark my words this is going to be a set to treasure! :D
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on 24 October 2014
excellent deal
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on 18 September 2014
Once again Daniel Barenboim shows his great musical insight, often clarifying the composer's intentions and also providing some thought-provoking answers . His technical command is amazing in Schubert's frequently demanding and complex writing. A wonderful musical experience.
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on 22 August 2015
"elegant performances from a wise old master" - are you sure that is what you are looking for in music that has never been surpassed in its intensely personal expression of emotions from a terminally ill but visionary romantic who wrote most of this in his twenties?
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on 28 December 2014
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