Schubert: Four Impromptus, D899; Piano Sonata No 20 in A major D959

Reviewed on Tue 14 Mar, 2017

Barry Douglas only partially measures up to the bewildering combination of nonchalance, poetry, brooding introversion and anguished turbulence characterising Schubert the tormented composer.

Artur Schnabel had an isolated field to himself when he recorded D959 in 1937. That field, though no longer isolated, still has space for musicians who have something unique to offer. Barry Douglas does not, only partially measuring up to the bewildering combination of nonchalance, poetry, brooding introversion and anguished turbulence characterising Schubert the tormented composer. Opening the first movement, and separated by silences, are three chords, meant to be articulated by two types of staccato. Douglas negates their starkness with the sustaining pedal, tending to over use it in a dispassionate approach to the whole work that plays down the frenetic subjectivity encapsulated within its notes. Thoughtful, profoundly considered interpretations by Alfred Brendel, Imogen Cooper, Elizabeth Leonskaja, Paul Lewis, Radu Lupu and András Schiff now populate the field. Douglas appears more comfortable with the Impromptus, but Lupu’s unfaltering artistic acumen here is very special.
–Nalen Anthoni