Pasa Tempos Imag­ine Christ­mas and Krys­tian Zimer­man’s Franz Schu­bert: Sonatas D. 959 and D. 960

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — J.M.K.

Some of Franz Schu­bert’s pi­ano sonatas suf­fer from longueurs, but the fi­nal two — in A ma­jor (D. 959) and B-flat ma­jor (D. 960) — are per­fect works of ge­nius writ­ten shortly be­fore his death. The cur­rent cat­a­log of­fers read­ings of the B-flat Sonata by about 120 pi­anists and ap­prox­i­mately two-thirds that num­ber for the A-ma­jor. That is no rea­son to be less than ju­bi­lant that Krys­tian Zimer­man fi­nally com­mit­ted to record­ing his in­ter­pre­ta­tions in early 2016, shortly af­ter his fiftyninth birth­day. Nearly two years later, the disc has fi­nally reached the shelves. One is in­stantly struck by the pi­ano’s sound. Zimer­man, who serves as his own tech­ni­cian, likes to cus­tom­ize pi­anos for in­di­vid­ual pieces or pro­grams. Here he has po­si­tioned the ham­mers to strike an un­ac­cus­tomed place on the strings and has light­ened the ac­tion. The re­sult­ing tone is si­mul­ta­ne­ously res­o­nant and translu­cent, a win­ning com­pro­mise be­tween mod­ern and his­tor­i­cal aes­thet­ics. Record­ing en­gi­neer Rainer Mail­lard cap­tured the sound mag­i­cally dur­ing five days of takes in a Ja­panese con­cert hall, from a rel­a­tively close per­spec­tive but with­out a trace of harsh­ness. Zimer­man’s in­ter­pre­ta­tions rank with the finest — se­curely paced but paus­ing se­lec­tively over de­tails, un­der­scor­ing Schu­bert’s mer­cu­rial moods with­out sound­ing gim­micky. The A-ma­jor turns ter­ri­fy­ing in its slow move­ment but, by the end, seems con­sol­ing in its op­ti­mism. En­ergy never flags in the B-flat, where pro­found mys­tery proves per­pet­u­ally en­rich­ing.

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