These are beautiful and totally satisfying recordings of the late Schubert piano sonatas (D 958, D 959, D 960) plus Allegretto D 915 and Three Piano Pieces D 946. I have enjoyed for almost ten years the excellent 7-CD box set of Schubert Piano Sonatas by Wilhelm Kempff (DG) and I recently took this double CD from Pollini, after reading positive reviews and having highly enjoyed his late Beethoven recordings also on DG. Although the late Schubert piano sonatas played by Kempff are great, I somewhat prefer the Pollini readings. They have an uncanny sense of rightness, fluidity and clarity that make these piano works really shine.
One comment about the sound quality. These are digital recordings (DDD) made between 1983 and 1985, commonly not a good period for recording quality. However, this CD sounds very good, nicely detailed and warm, as from analogue recordings but without tape hiss. None of the glassy sound of the piano commonly associated with early digital recordings. I have never heard the original 1987 CD release, but I guess that DG engineers have made a great re-mastering work. An additional reason to fully get pleasure from this double CD.
There's a lot to like here. As one would expect, Pollini storms through the virtuoso passages with complete assurance. Melodies are almost always cleanly delineated and sufficiently projected, and the tone is unfailingly pleasant, if a little too soothing on occasion. The scherzi, apart from some occasional clumsy phrasing, have a delightful, quicksilver quality. I have however some serious reservations about this recording. The tempo is generally too wayward in the opening Allegro movements, leading to a loss of unity and poise; sometimes, indeed, the pianist lingers so tenderly over a lyrical moment that one fears his vehicle is about to stall. It's like listening to a bel-canto style diva and wondering whether her breath will last out to the end of the phrase. It always works - just! - but meanwhile we've been distracted from the music. Also one crucial passage - the recitative-like return to the main theme after the stormy episode in the Andantino of the A major sonata - is, to be blunt, poorly played - over-cautious and perfunctory, as is the coda of this profound movement.
There are, of course, some great interpretations of Schubert's final three sonatas. For years I have loved Richter's achingly drawn-out version of D960 and Kempff's complete set. Brendel's recordings are marvellous too. But, for me, Pollini seems to represent best what Schubert was trying to say as he faced death at such a young age. The despair is there certainly, but then so is the sense of Schubert's sorrow that he was dying with so much more to achieve.
My favourite "go to" cd set. So many colours and layers of melody, something new rewards attentive ears on every listening. If I had to choose just one cd set to keep, this would be it. All of life is here.