Ralph Votapek

Schubert: The Last Sonatas

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Franz Schubert's last piano sonatas occupy the same expansive formal dimensions of his late symphonic and chamber music, and pianists who play them must be aware that they require constant control of the melodic material and its sustained emotional trajectory. Ralph Votapek performs the Sonata in A major, D. 959, and the Sonata in B flat major, D. 960, with a patient and alert approach, and his steady pacing of the music holds the sonata form together, even though each work runs well over a half hour. He allows the themes to develop unforcedly and with a feeling of calm appreciation for subtle changes along the way, and the steady flow between movements makes the performances stand as unified wholes. Votapek's skill in bringing secondary lines to the fore goes a long way in maintaining lyrical and contrapuntal interest, and his utter lack of grandstanding lets the listener concentrate on the musical ideas rather than on the performer. Self-effacement may not be every pianist's strong suit, but Votapek's modesty in the service of Schubert's music is a high virtue, and one more reason to hear this fine album. Blue Griffin's reproduction puts the piano at a suitable distance from the microphone to avoid excessive closeness, but every detail is perfectly audible and the acoustics are quite natural.

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