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This is an intriguing coupling. Both chosen pieces are enigmas in their own ways, and another link is that Schnittke held Schubert in great esteem. Schnittke’s First Piano Sonata was penned in 1987, the year he could finally emigrate from the Soviet Union. The piece was written for Vladimir Feltsman and features a monogram of Feltsman’s name, as well as introducing music reminiscent of Russian chant. The music is dark and shadowy – its whole raison d’être seems to be to pose questions, not to answer them. Feltsman is a master of the long line and clearly understands and revels in the Schoenbergian harmonies (particularly of the Lento). The extremely angular finale ends with low tolling imitations of deeply resonant bells before the Schubert enters like a shaft of light.

The Sonata D840 is one of Schubert’s many sonatas that were left in torso. Here, there are two movements. The very opening marks Feltsman as a great Schubert player, vying with Uchida for supremacy in this repertoire. He has a great depth of sonority for the louder passages; yet later he can almost lose the drive in attempting to deliver such an uncompromisingly bare-bones reading. Occasionally, he loses steam in a way a greater interpreter would not (towards the end of the first movement and sporadically in the Andante second movement). It is a mixed reading that tantalisingly hints at genius before withdrawing to a more human plane.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica


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