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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 5 February 2013
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!
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on 13 March 2013
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.

Recommended unreservedly.
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on 12 June 2015
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.
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on 17 March 2013
Maria João Pires is proving particularly prolific on record at the moment. After last year's superb Mozart piano concertos with the Orchestra Mozart and Abbado, comes this new disc of Schubert piano sonatas. Next month DG releases a recording of her and Antonio Meneses's January 2012 recital from Wigmore Hall.

Here, she is captured playing two of Schubert's piano sonatas, the late great B flat and the A minor D845. Warm then wary, her reading of the late B major sonata never overstates its case. Her approach works brilliantly in a work of such rigidity and with a vast emotional range. Yet that passive approach yields fewer rewards in the earlier A minor sonata.

Pires rightly refuses to impose an aesthetic on Schubert's piano writing. Emotion and energy is implicit; there is no need to colour in. The effect in the B flat major sonata is one of initially untrammelled domesticity. The sound is slightly dry, though warm, from which the ominous trill in the left hand comes as something of a surprise. These details, articulations and whims within the work are picked out, though never slavishly.

Even the tonal journey within the first movement is allowed to speak of its own accord. Pires is more intent on pondering details of phrasing - beautifully bringing out the middle voicing - than she is in signposting the structure. But, released into the development section, she really allows the melodies to sing, building to a searing climax. It works because Pires has not frontloaded the movement with ponderous asides and pauses.

The occasionally lachrymose slow movement likewise pits passion against something more detached, though Pires's legato playing is sublime both here and in the Scherzo. My only quibble with the performance comes in the final movement, where Pires's passivity steals the music's thunder. Just as in the G major string quartet or the string quintet, there is a relentless braying glee to the final movements in Schubert's late works; Pires doesn't quite reach fever pitch.

Pires is likewise rather submissive in the A minor sonata. The work cannot match the brilliance, the Hamlet-like scope of the B flat major work and although Paul Lewis's recent passionate account couldn't quite convince me of the work as a whole, it did communicate Lewis's own zeal for the piece. Pires's non-interventionist approach doesn't quite translate here. Schubert's thoughts are not so fluid and they need a deft weaving assistant. But when Pires is dealing with a masterwork as great as the B flat major sonata, her attention to detail and ability to let the musical quirks speak for themselves really allows you to discover the work afresh.
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on 2 November 2015
Thank you. Some more of M.J.P's superb pianism.
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on 25 September 2015
Super Piano
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on 20 November 2013
Love to review but unfortunately it's damaged.

Beaches Entertainment who supplied it won't send me a replacement, just a refund if/when I return the CD to the States at my own cost, so no review of the whole disk.

However what does play is taut and somewhat austere. It's an unromantic approach to Schubert and quite frankly not what I was expecting from Maria Pires. I have her Chopin nocturnes which I consider far superior to Rubinstein's, which I think of as emotionless, so her dry reading of the Schubert was a surprise (the A minor sonata - can't listen to the B flat major). Still making my mind up but the playing is wonderful and the acoustic full and rounded. Well on the way to a five if I ever get to hear the whole thing.
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on 17 February 2014
Maria Joao Pires is a truly exceptional artists- one of the most poetic pianist living today. A wonderful performance of the Schubert B flat sonata. Sit back and enjoy.
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on 21 April 2013
I've loved many of Pires's recordings over the years - but this just doesn't quite make the grade. Wonderful recording, but the interpretation seems a bit short of inspiration, I'm afraid.
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