Schubert: Piano Sonatas – No 20 in A major, D 959; No 21 in B flat major, D 960

Reviewed on Wed 18 Oct, 2017

The flowing legato lyricism that makes Zimerman's Chopin so compelling is much in evidence, especially in the first movement of D 960 and the Andantino second of D 959 (the highlight of the disc).

Expectations run high for Krystian Zimerman’s first solo recording in many decades, and he doesn’t disappoint. Schubert’s late sonatas allow the pianist to demonstrate every facet of his art. The flowing legato lyricism that makes his Chopin so compelling is much in evidence, especially in the first movement of D 960 and the Andantino second of D 959 (the highlight of the disc). But he also brings clear rhythmic focus to the two scherzos and dramatic sweep to the first movements (all repeats are taken). The finale of D 960 is unusual, with the chord that opens the rondo theme so detached it seems at a different tempo. The stop-and-start effect may sound like affectation to some ears, but to me it fits perfectly into Zimerman’s distinctive interpretation. The recording, made in Japan in January 2016, offers clear, warm audio. Definitive accounts, and among other recent recordings of these works, only Paul Lewis (on Harmonia Mundi) comes close.
–Gavin Dixon