Arcadi Volodos

Schubert: Piano Sonata D 959; Minuets D 334, D 335, D 600

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Reactions to this recording of Schubert's Piano Sonata in A major, D. 959 by pianist Arcadi Volodos will depend to an unusual degree on individual tastes. This is brilliantly executed but unusual Schubert, and even if some aspects are off-putting, it demands attention. You might think of it as Russian Schubert: if Rachmaninov had played Schubert in recital, it might have sounded like this. Volodos shapes every phrase in great detail, with a variety of touch and articulation perhaps unmatched on the contemporary scene. The results are most impressive in the sonata's slow movement, which has a truly remarkable sustained hypnotic quality. Elsewhere, Volodos avoids the songful quality typically associated with Schubert, and perhaps what you think of his playing here will hang on whether you think Schubert's larger works are songs writ large or something else entirely. In the finale, the usual artless quality of the main theme is strikingly absent. Coming from the classic readings by Alfred Brendel or before that Rudolf Serkin, Volodos can be quite a shock, but don't accuse him of lacking a sense of the longer line: he sweats those details too. He gets marvelous support from Sony's engineers, working at Berlin's Teldex studio. The slightest shades of piano sound in that remarkable slow movement, and in the early minuets that close the program and wind down the considerable tension of the sonata, are fully displayed. The recording date given is the nonspecific "2017-2019," opening the question of how much post-recording tweaking was done; the music has the feel of a recording tinkered with. A must-hear, even if not a must-treasure for you.

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