Alexander Lonquich’s Micromanaged Schubert

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 10

Alexander Lonquich’s Schubert playing straddles a thin line between fastidious detailing and micromanagement. The C minor D. 958 sonata’s Allegro boasts dotted rhythms that make a Jovian impact in regard to precision and dynamic force, yet also abounds with fussy agogic phrasings. Lonquich sustains the Adagio to hypnotic effect, although the slightly overdone diminuendos and crescendos in accompanying chords betray more than a hint of pre-planning.

His measured tempo for the Menuetto brings out the music’s dark undercurrents, only to be undone by the Trio section’s fussy phrasings. While the minute calibrations of light and shade in Lonquich’s detaché articulation hold pianistic interest, they don’t propel the music forward, and instead partaking in a galloping night ride we are stuck in a laboratory with a master embalmer.

Collectors who might have encountered Lonquich’s impossibly fustian and sectionalized 1993 EMI recording of the A major D. 959 sonata (especially the protracted opening movement and the Scherzo) will find his better engineered Alpha remake even more mannered, and a far cry from the controlled freedom of Pollini or Zimerman.

By hook or by crook, the pianist’s slow pacing and italicizing throughout the long B-flat D. 960 Molto moderato hangs together, yet he still works too hard making a case for such a controversial conception, whereas the like-minded Sviatoslav Richter’s simpler playing conveys a more convincing otherworldly aura. Yet one hardly notices how Lonquich elongates certain beats in the Andante sostenuto’s ostinato. He may not accent the Scherzo Trio’s syncopated bass notes with subtlety, but the outer section takes curvy wing with alluring legato phrase shaping. The pianist hesitantly (and quite appropriately) immerses himself in the Allegro finale’s opening theme, but again, his picky and sectionalized pianism exaggerates the movement’s shifting moods.

Lonquich fares best in the second and third of the D. 946 Klavierstücke, bringing tender lyricism to the former and an effectively deadpan approach to the latter’s asymmetry. Overarticulation, however, runs the opening E-flat minor piece into the ground. Notice Lonquich’s cover photo, with his eyes shut and his face slightly clenched. Just like a death mask.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Schubert 1828
Reference Recording: This coupling: Pollini (DG), D. 958: Richter (Eurodisc), D. 959: Pollini (DG), D. 960: Fleisher (Vanguard), D. 946: Pires (DG)

    Piano Sonatas D. 958, D. 959, & D. 960; Three Klavierstücke D. 946
  • Alexander Lonquich (piano)

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