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FRANZ SCHUBERT - Piano Sonata D960

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FRANZ SCHUBERT - Piano Sonata D960 - Four Impromptus D935 - Marc-André Hamelin (Piano) - 034571282138 - Released: April 2018 - Hyperion CDA68213

I was afraid that based on the strength of his predilection for complex, hyper-expressive and technically challenging piano works that Marc-André Hamelin would not be able to descend low enough from his virtuosic peak and express Franz Schubert's piano works on the composer's terms. Unlike Beethoven for example, and maybe because he wasn't as technically proficient, Schubert never allowed pianistic bravura to alter the direction or purpose of a piece. Like a vulture, he would keep circling over the same thematic idea or subject until he had exhausted all possibilities, instead of flying off in a different direction and expanding a movement's development. But then again, many individual movements of his piano sonatas are of a bewildering beauty, and some, like the Andante sostenuto of the Piano Sonata in B flat major D960 are profoundly moving.

And Marc-André Hamelin does perceive Schubert as a delicate, lyrical, poetic lieder-meister musician. One might say like a gentle and naïve Beethoven. He lends the Sonata the precise amount of expressive coloration it needs to reveal its charms, and diverse phrasing to prevent ennui. The 22 minute opening movement of the sonata certainly benefits from that type of approach. And unlike Sviatoslav Richter for example, he avoids a heavy-hand in even the loudest passages, and maintains well-judged proportions at all times. The leading melody is always clear and articulate, whilst the other hand always provides the appropriate counterweight.

The Hyperion recording is close and clean, and projects just enough ambient air between the piano and the listener to position you in the sweet spot. Any and all Hamelin followers and Schubert devotees need not hesitate on this one.

Jean-Yves Duperron - April 2018