Zimerman Plays Schubert: Master And Micromanager

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 10

Krystian Zimerman’s first solo release in years showcases both the pianist’s painstaking workmanship and his micromanaging tendencies. The micromanager prevails in the B-flat sonata, particularly in the first-movement exposition’s ritards, caesuras, tenutos, dynamic taperings, and other expressive contrivances that draw attention to the pianist over the composer. Granted, these gestures never spill over into vulgarity, but they grow old fast.

Zimerman separates his rhythmically impeccable articulation of the Andante sostenuto’s left-hand ostinato from the right-hand cantilena to multi-textured, three-dimensional effect, yet you sense the pianist’s calculation and preplanning, in contrast to the dignified and artless simplicity you hear from Andsnes, Richter, and Fleisher. Zimerman’s relaxed lilt in the Scherzo presents easy opportunities for point making, or fussing around, depending on your point of view. But why does the pianist clip the right hand in the finale’s opening sustained G-natural? Bizarre.

Conversely, Zimerman enlivens and fortifies the big A major sonata with seriousness of purpose and constant attention to detail. His brisk basic tempo and strong contrapuntal acumen minimizes the first movement’s discursive profile, even though Murray Perahia offers more lyrical respite and dramatic complexity. Note, for instance, Perahia’s varied articulation in the long transitional passage leading into the recapitulation, where, by contrast, Zimerman plows through it with blinders on. In Zimerman’s hands, the Scherzo’s high-register arpeggiated chords gracefully sparkle, while the Rondo finale unfolds in long, singing lines.

For me, Zimerman’s stunning slow movement is worth the price of the disc. He clips the detached bass-line accompaniment without sounding the least percussive, as if gently plucking rather than striking the notes. The wildly desolate chromatic build-up is a perfect example of controlled frenzy; the loud climactic chords are full bodied from bottom to top, yet convey gaunt, stinging ferocity. Even Pollini’s comparably terse reference recording takes a back seat to Zimerman’s grim clarity. In sum, a fascinating yet problematic B-flat sonata coupled with an A major sonata for the ages.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: D. 960: Fleisher (Sony); Andsnes (EMI), D. 959: Perahia (Sony); Pollini (DG)

  • SCHUBERT, FRANZ:
    Piano Sonata No. 20 in A major D. 959; Piano Sonata No. 21 in B-flat major D. 960
  • Krystian Zimerman (piano)

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