Classical CD Reviews

SCHUBERT: Vier Impromptus; Piano Sonata in B-flat Major – Rudolf Buchbinder, p.– Sony Classical

Austrian virtuoso Rudolf Buchbinder proves himself a master of the Schubert idiom, much in the manner – and worthy of the mantle – of Alfred Brendel.

Published on October 31, 2013

SCHUBERT: Vier Impromptus, D. 899; Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960 – Rudolf Buchbinder, p. – Sony Classical 88883717422, 72:43 ****:

Recorded 27 September 2012 at the Vienna Musikverein Golden Hall, these familiar works by Franz Schubert find a sympathetic interpreter in Austrian virtuoso Rudolf Buchbinder (b. 1946), who for many now assumes the mantle of Alfred Brendel. The first half of this recital presents Schubert’s 1827 first set of Impromptus, published while yet he lived. Buchbinder makes dramatic sense of the first of the set, in C Minor, whose martial air gives rise to a series of variations and a second theme, this in A-flat Major. Besides the triplet figures, the four-note bass tune at several points invokes the spirit of Beethoven. Buchbinder plays the piece as a Manichean dialogue and struggle in light and dark, finally modulating through G Major to rest on the tonic major of the opening modality.

Anticipating the etudes of Chopin, the second of the Impromptus in E-flat Major shows off Buchbinder in a dreamy sensibility, rather rhetorically hesitating at key periods. Here, the Manichean progression reverses itself, moving to the parallel minor. Buchbinder establishes a steady pulse that still allows him breathing room for rubato in the running cascades and offbeat accented triplet. The music assumes an almost Spanish color in its final pages, brilliant and bold at once. The G-flat Major Impromptu in 4/2 sighs with every Romantic ardor, making the piece almost impossible for any competent virtuoso to ruin, except by too much sentimentality. Buchbinder permits the long, flexible melodic line to breathe poetically, with its bass harmonies’ hinting at deep wells of emotion beneath the Aeolian harp above. The last of the set, in A-flat Major, exerts the same ambiguity of dominance with its tonic minor. Arpeggio runs invoke chordal responses, Buchbinder’s graduated touch evoking the sense of dignified longing that Schnabel could likewise elicit from its wonderful “cello” melody. The moon and surrounding clouds of personal doubt and pain surely rise up in the middle section, set in C-sharp Minor. Buchbinder’s last page asserts a sense of impending calamity that only the assurance of beauty can assuage.

Buchbinder, perhaps following in the broad footsteps of Sviatoslav Richter, takes the “heavenly length” approach to the 1828 B-flat Major Sonata, the huge first movement’s lyricism countered by the martial gait and the ominous bass trill. But Buchbinder’s architectural sense proves as plastic as his grip on the multifarious motives remains dramatically poised. Always, within the ebb and flow of competing forces, the distant light at land’s end remains constant, that same distant, confident star to which Shakespeare’s Caesar compares himself. The C-sharp Minor Andante sostenuto extends Buchbinder’s subtle dynamic control. We almost forget that much of the movement’s impetus derives from motifs within the opening movement; but here, the urge to serenity and consolation reigns over the inquietude. In the forte passages, however, the keyboard’s resonance defies Recording Engineer Robert Pavlecka and threatens to become metallically harsh. Despite the nervous hues of C-sharp Minor, the vivacious Scherzo quite dances with high spirits in Buchbinder’s rendition, in which the rhythm undergoes a series of subtle and whimsical fluctuations. The syncopes of the middle section adumbrate Gottschalk and Chabrier. With a resonant (and oft-repeated) G, the last movement Allegro ma non troppo ushers in a series of runs in staccato and cascading arpeggios. Buchbinder’s long Apollinian line never sags, and he invests an aggressive drama into the gallop that rounds off in such lovely symmetries. The three-hand effects in stretto certainly impressed (and influenced) Schumann. Buoyant and breezy as well as stentorian and monumental, Buchbinder’s affects traverse the late Schubert world with stylistic acuity. This is virile, intelligent, and sensitive Schubert, rendered by a master of the idiom.

—Gary Lemco




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