Schubert: Piano Sonata No. 18 - Margolina
Ars Produktion ARS 38 193
Classical - Instrumental
Schubert: Piano Sonata No. 18; 3 Klavierstucke
Elena Margolina, piano
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - February 2, 2016
Sometimes one comes across an artist with whom one feels a special bond without exactly knowing why. Elena Margolina is such an artist. Her Schubert evokes empathy; the listener senses, as it were, her personal attitude towards this tormented composer, her understanding of Schubert’s multi-facetted feelings, allowing her to reflect this in her interpretations. For me this is an absolute prerequisite for being able to colour & shade his ‘grand’ sonatas, such as D 894.
Thus far there are two recordings in high resolution available: The widely appreciated Volodos (stereo only) and the Japanese pianist Kei Itoh, of which little information is available. Last year’s ARS-Produktion recording with Elena Margolina is the third and for me certainly a worthwhile and welcome one.
Schubert’s Sonata in G major Op. 78, D894 was published as “Museum for Piano Music, Book 9, containing: Fantasy, Andante, and Allegretto for Pianoforte Solo, by Franz Schubert”. Contemporaries saw this sonata, indeed, more as a Fantasy and hence nicknamed it ‘fantasy-Sonata’. However, it is more than a fantasy; it’s a mirror of real life.
Schubert’s sonatas are by no means easy. Not in the sense of being technically complicated, but rather in terms of understanding and reproducing his contradicting spirits, ranging from wishful jubilant youthfulness and poetic inspiration to resigning in sorrow and possibly even self-pity. Schubert wanted to match Beethoven, but he felt or thought he was inferior or rather incapable of doing so.*) Most of his sonatas remained incomplete. Of the 22 he started only 7 were completed and D 894 is one of the three published during his lifetime. Seen in this light playing his sonatas is playing his life and mindset. In other words, playing the score ‘as is’ is not enough. One has to invest in studying Schubert’s life inside out. Margolina sees it this way: “Schubert represents the pursuit of happiness and love, and the quest for inner peace, even while teetering on the edge of abyss. To experience unbridled joy the way children do - all this was impossibly distant and unattainable for Schubert”.
Although the ‘3 Klavierstücke’ D 946 (some call them Impromptus) are, so it is said, not often played in the concert hall, many notable pianists have recorded them (Brendel, of course, Uchida, Pollini, Schiff, Arrau and not to forget: Badura-Skoda); in Super-Audio the harvest is not so bad either and it’s remarkable that on the ARS-Produktion label no less than three versions exist: Youn Schubert: 4 Impromptus D.935, 3 Klavierstücke - Youn, Gabrys (on fortepiano) Schubert / Brahms / Chopin: Late piano works - Gabrys, and this one. And furthermore: Koudriakow Schubert: Piano Sonata No. 20 - Koudriakov, and Kei Itoh Schubert: Piano Works Vol. 3 - Kei Itoh.
As to the nature of these three pieces (it is not entirely sure if they were meant to be a cycle), it should be kept in mind that they were written at the end of Schubert’s life, though still sometime before September 1828, when his health quickly deteriorated and death loomed over the horizon. In my view, they may nonetheless be seen as a kind of summing-up or stocktaking. It contains many elements marking Schubert’s life. Although the first has melodies reminiscent of ‘Rosamunde’, in all three opposing components are apparent, developments are not always logical. The liner notes conclude: “it was only a dream, and time catches up with it”. They were left unpublished until Brahms anonymously edited them and had them published in 1868.
In multi-channel, the sound of the Steinway D is warm and close, like sitting next to it, a wonderful, realistic experience. I’m most indebted to Elena Margolina’s insightful, unhurried and poetic playing, which I enjoyed with so much pleasure.
*) Schubert’s relation to Beethoven is aptly described in a novel about his life and music by Rudolf Hans Bartsch (1910), notably when hearing voices in his confusing hours before his death:
„Aber Herr von Schubert“, sagten sie, „Wir sind doch beauftragt, Sie neben den Herrn von Beethoven zu tragen. Es ist ein und dasselbe Requiem: für Sie beide!“ „Neben Beethoven“, sagte Schubert tief gerührt. Er war gewürdigt, neben Beethoven begraben zu werden! (Schwammerl, ein Schubert Roman).
- “But Herr von Schubert”, they said, “We have been ordered to put you next to Herr van Beethoven. It’s the one and only requiem for the two of you!” “Next to Beethoven”, said Schubert deeply moved. He was good enough to be buried next to Beethoven!
Copyright © 2016 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net