Piano Sonata in B flat; Impromptu op. 142 n. 2 (Curzon)*

Schubert: Piano Sonata in B flat, op. posth.; lmpromptu in A flat, op.142 no.2. Clifford Curzon. Decca

The Musical Times, Jun. 1974 (p.484)

In Schubert's later years his instrumental and vocal music became packed together in new personal effects that need new portmanteau words to contain them. Thus Der Doppelgänger is a passacaglied, while D960 is a songata. That same perspective of form and feeling appears in contemporary German Romantic painting, where (just as in Winterreise, which might well be the title of a canvas by Caspar David Friedrich) an immense landscape is contrasted with one small solitary human figure. In D960, the scale and compass (six octaves) convey the dimensions of time and space; the epic scene is even aptly illustrated with ominous left­hand thunder, as in the Aeneid. The lyric echoes (Der Einsame, Der Wanderer etc) tell the human story.

    Clifford Curzon gives a compelling account of this, with graphically varied inflections of tone and gesture. Not everyone perhaps will want the dynamic contrasts quite as striking as they sometimes sound (e.g. II/71ff) and sometimes don't sound (e.g. in the disputed passage at I/95 I find it hard to hear, despite the accent, whether F or F flat is the preferred reading). There are other uncertainties. For example the opening bars of IV are described by the pianist (in his own notes) as ambiguous in key (“C minor is implied”) and therefore in mood; and the whole finale is performed accordingly.

    But is seems just as permissible to hear either no verbal analogues or different ones. The opening G octave might be intended to function in its context as a kind of superdominant quite unrelated to the key of C minor (indeed, is it really possible to hear C as a tonic in those bars?) much as in the B flat Gloria of the contemporary Mass D950, where a G major arpeggio is deliberately turned on, without the least obscurity, to highlight the words “Gloria” and “laudamus”.

    Still, lyric Schubert is multi-faceted, and this polished performance will sparkle from many points of view. The objective presentation of structure is another matter. For a start, the first movement is not Molto moderato - at least not if (as I believe) Rubinstein and Kempff among others have rightly taken the measure of the music in their recorded performances. Further time is gained by omitting to repeat the exposition. The accrued savings are transferred to a very profitable account of op.142 no. 2. It would be entirely reasonable for anyone who thinks that a good bargain to think this record one.