Zimerman, Schubert Sonatas 20 (D959) and 21 (D960)
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These are very interesting interpretations of the last two Schubert sonatas. Zimerman has always been what I’d call a lyrical thinker of the piano repertoire. His performances seem very well thought out and planned, yet they remain flowing and graceful.
The same is true here. There are quite a few mannerisms but they don’t get in the way of the music. The slow movements of both sonatas have a very modern touch to them, the pulse more rhythmical than we have got used to. Still, they are heartfelt with all the minor details taken care of. Zimerman also observes the dynamics as few other pianists do.
Apparently, he used a modified piano (the strings are hit differently by the hammer) which might be how Schubert had intended the piano to sound like. This could perhaps explain the different rhythmic overtones, most audible in the pianissimos of the slow movements (especially of the last sonata). He also has some interesting interpretative ideas when it comes to phrasing, like the subtle, slightly longer pauses in the first movement of D960. The truth is, if one is used to more flowing accounts of the sonata (like Curzon’s or Kempff’s) Zimerman’s introspection and micromanagement of some phrases might seem slightly distracting.
Yet, one cannot doubt the extra care with which these works are performed here. It is obvious that the pianist has gone to extra lengths to prepare these recordings and even the fact that this is Zimerman’s first recording in over 25 years is another reason to listen to these pieces. In the end, it is difficult to compare his account with those of other pianists (Perahia, Curzon, Pollini being personal favourites) because of Zimerman’s different approach to some parts. But this is what interpretation is all about and when we have a pianist as important as Zimerman, we know that every choice serves a purpose (he has been performing these sonatas for 30 years).
Sample the album on Spotify:
For me, the sensitivity he shows in handling the most delicate passages and the extra attention to dynamics would be an important reason to go out and buy this set right away. Other pianists might have a more mainstream approach, but —who knows— Zimerman might be closer to how the composer intended these pieces to sound in his days.
Featured image © Kasskara and DGG (source: Harrison Parrott)