David Levine

Schubert: The Last Sonatas, D.959 & 960

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In this 1992 Virgin Classics release, David Levine shows superb taste in choosing to couple Schubert's magnificent final two piano sonatas, but his interpretations fail to demonstrate why they are magnificent. With his abrupt tempo modifications and reckless use of rubato, Levine so often distorts the lines that the structures seem to shudder, and the forward motion seems to stagger. Levine clearly has the necessary technique, but it is haphazardly applied. He can sail through the maniacal central section of the A major Sonata's Andantino, only to freeze up in the Allegro vivace Scherzo that follows. While he has the lightness of tone necessary to let the B flat Sonata's Allegro vivace con delicatezza float, he lacks the intensity and gravity to let its Andante sostenuto register as the monument it is. Levine's accounts may be of passing interest to listeners already familiar with these works and their best recordings -- Schnabel's, Fischer's, Richter's, Serkin's, Kovacevich's, Brendel's, and Pollini's among them -- but listeners unfamiliar with these sonatas should hear any of those exemplary versions before this one. The early digital sound is clear and immediate, but also thin and strangely empty.

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