Musicweb-international. Schubert

The late Schubert
Piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat Major, D960 (1828) [38:15] Drei Klavierstьcke, D946 (1828) [32:20] Oleg Marshev (pf)
Danacord DACOCD 646 [70.09]

For this release Danacord, the Danish-based independent label, have chosen Oleg Marshev as their soloist. He was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, then part of the former Soviet Union and also the birthplace of Rostropovich. Marshev trained with Valentina Aristova at the Gnesin School for highly gifted children and with Mikhail Voskresensky at the Moscow Conservatory where he completed his Doctorate in 1988. He was awarded the Diploma with Honour. Marshev plays these Schubert works on a Steinway Model D piano.

Schubert wanted to dedicate his Piano Sonata No. 21 to Hummel but his Austrian music publisher changed that distinction to Robert Schumann. In a review Schumann actually questioned whether or not the score together with the C minor and A major Sonatas were ‘last’ works as claimed.

Music writer David Ewen is of the opinion that the shadow of Beethoven hovers over most of Schubert’s piano sonatas but only in these last three sonatas can Schubert be said to be truly Beethovenian. The drama and majesty of the sonata has noticeable Beethovenian echoes although Schubert’s rich and deep trademark voice is overriding. Many musicologists consider this work to be his greatest sonata with its tonal daring, impressive harmonic sureness and consistently expressive pianistic treatment.

The first movement molto moderato starts off with an expansive and eloquent melody that concludes with a low trill in an air of mystery. The mystery deepens with the second subject which begins in the key of F sharp major and then lapses into F. The andante sostenuto movement is a continual ascent towards the sublime, the starting point being a poetic thirteen measure melody with religious overtones. The scherzo is remarkable for the variety of its harmony and the exciting alternations of major and minor. The allegro ma non troppo finale is once again Beethovenian in its storm and stress; it opens on a dramatic note in a foreign key.

Schubert scholar Brian Newbould described the Klavierstьcke as “precious examples of art-concealing miniaturism”. Einstein stated that these three substantial pieces parodied the popular styles of the day. It is thought that the 1828 Klavierstьcke were originally intended for a third set of impromptus. Critics have not always been kind towards them but, “they stand well enough” according to music writer and pianist Atesё Orga and “they occasionally reach the heavens”.

Oleg Marshev proves himself a sterling advocate of these scores. He is thoroughly musical, totally involved, produces an attractive tone and conveys a feeling of surety. In the sonata the difficulties and manifold mood changes of the opening movement are skilfully navigated. In the slow movement the pianist captures the contemplative and reflective mood superbly well. The short scherzo is dazzlingly performed with as much charm as one could wish to hear. The impressive Marshev interprets the dramatic concluding movement skilfully with considerable prowess. In this man’s hands Schubert’s ever-present mood of agitation and fervour is communicated most convincingly. Throughout the Klavierstьcke I was especially impressed with the way Marshev breaths life into the music with supple phrasing and subtle rubato. There never seems to be any hint of self-consciousness from this pianist who is to be congratulated for conveying the true spirit of the music.

The booklet notes which are packed with information are rather technical at times and the writing frequently borders on the incomprehensible. Wonderfully recorded sound from the Danacord engineers in a suitably resonant acoustic.

Michael Cookson