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In common with others (notably Schnabel, Hess and Lupu), Krystian Zimerman finds visits to the recording studio daunting rather than joyous. It is now many years since he has made a new recording. Today, aged 60, he finds it is now or never if he is to record those late masterpieces of Beethoven and Schubert that have been in his repertoire for 30 years. The start of what is hopefully a project is astonishing.

Zimerman’s technical command is prodigious and unfaltering, yet exclusively at the service of his searing vision. No time for caressing warmth or confidentiality, but the naked essence of Schubert without fuss or indirection, and always with a sense of ‘time’s winged chariot hurrying near’. This, after all, is music composed shortly before Schubert’s death at the age of 30. The opening of the Sonata in A major could hardly be more imperious or propulsive, the finale’s ‘heavenly length’ all too short.

Again, in the Sonata in B-flat the outward manner is disarmingly straightforward. There is no time for subnormal tempi (Richter) in music that is far too great to need extraneous pleading or rhetoric. Zimerman plays the first movement repeat and you sense Brendel’s frown as he argues eloquently, though I think incorrectly, against its inclusion. The pedal effect in the finale’s opening octave, aided by Zimerman’s own specially inserted keyboard, billows and fades with a baleful and phantom effect (the world of Winterreise). So, while I would never be without long cherished recordings by Kempff, Curzon, Lupu and Uchida, these fiercely uncompromising readings stand out like a beacon of blazing light. Impossible to think of applause at the end; only awed silence.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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