Krystian Zimerman

Franz Schubert: Piano Sonatas D 959 & D 960

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Franz Schubert: Piano Sonatas D 959 & D 960 Review

by James Manheim

Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman has been something of an anti-Gould, avoiding recordings in favor of live performances. This recording of Schubert's last two piano sonatas was done with a custom keyboard with which, Zimerman says, "the hammer strikes a different point of the string, enhancing its ability to sustain a singing sound -- though it does also set up different overtones and the piano might sound strangely tuned." Further, he recorded the album at a small Japanese auditorium near an earthquake-damaged nuclear plant (not Fukushima), where he had played a benefit concert. It all sounds a bit eccentric, but Zimerman matches his interpretations to his innovations, and the results are of considerable interest. Start right in at the beginning, where you can hear the overtone effect Zimerman is talking about: the opening of the Piano Sonata in A major, D. 959, comes out not as grand but as an altogether modern statement of spiky nervousness and dread. This sets up an unusual dynamic that is resolved only by the finale, where Zimerman brings the piano's songful qualities into play. Nor does he take the usual approach of treating the two final sonatas as a pair. The Piano Sonata in B flat major, D. 960, is strikingly quiet and transparent, with a tragic sense in the slow movement, a feeling of impending death, perhaps, that is not present in the other sonata. Your mileage may vary, perhaps, but this is a statement well worth considering for any lover of the late Schubert.

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