Paul Badura-Skoda

Paul Badura-Skoda Plays Franz Schubert

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Here, 85-year-old Austrian pianist Paul Badura-Skoda offers no fewer than three complete recordings of the Schubert Piano Sonata in B flat major, D. 960, with the Drei Klavierstücke, D. 946, as a curtain raiser. The three versions are played on three different pianos, a Graf fortepiano of 1826, a modern Steinway, and a 1923 Bösendorfer that for piano buffs may be worth the price of admission to this two-CD set. It's an exceptionally warm, mellow instrument, and Badura-Skoda crafts an interpretation to match it. You might think that this effort represents a rumination on the virtues and disadvantages of historical instruments from Badura-Skoda after his long career, but in fact that doesn't seem to be what he has in mind. He writes in his own notes that it is "simply because of the uniqueness of this sonata. It transcends the nature of the piano: even the best instrument (played with authority) cannot give full justice to its meaning, but each one brings different facets to the fore." Badura-Skoda essentially offers three quite different readings of the work, which is quite an ambitious undertaking for a pianist of any age. The starting points are 1) for the 1824 piano the small motivic details that tend to get lost on a modern grand (sample the remarkable passage leading to the recapitulation in the first movement); 2) for the Steinway the sheer technical difficulty of the sonata; and 3) for the Bösendorfer the warm but melancholy Brahmsian lyricism. It's a unique project, perhaps not one that belongs in every library, but certainly worthwhile for anyone deeply immersed in Schubert, or in Badura-Skoda's recordings.

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