courtesy of Naxos of America
Near the beginning of this month, following a lapse of almost two years, Nimbus Records released the fifth volume in Vladimir Feltsman’s project to record the solo piano music of Franz Schubert, focusing primarily on the piano sonatas. This project has proceeded at an unsteady pace. The first volume appeared in May of 2015, back when I was writing for Examiner.com. This was followed, with little delay, by the appearance of the second volume in July of the same year. After that, the wait became longer; and the third volume did not appear until November of 2016; and, according to my records, I downloaded the tracks for the fourth volume at the beginning of July of last year.
However, this latest release suggests that Feltsman may be trying to make up for lost (or delayed) time. The album consists of two CDs, divided according to mode. The first CD presents of two major-key sonatas, D. 575 in B major and D. 850 in D major. The second shifts to the minor mode with the two-movement D. 566 in E minor and the four-movement D. 845 in A minor, as well as the D. 571 fragment in F-sharp minor, which Otto Erich Deutsch identifies as “the first movement of an unfinished sonata, numbered ‘V.’” Deutsch assigns this fragment the date of July of 1817, observing that there were two efforts at completion. Heinz Jolles completed the Allegro movement in 1925, and Walter Rehberg extended it to a complete sonata in 1927. Feltsman plays only the music that was in Schubert’s hand, breaking off where the composer did.
For the most part, I have been satisfied with Feltsman’s approaches to Schubert during the different stages of the composer’s development. In particular, I have enjoyed his accounts of what I like to call the “big three” sonatas, all of which Schubert composed in September of 1828, a little over a month before his death. The Volume 5 sonatas, on the other hand, date from two distinctively separate years in Schubert’s short life. D. 566, D. 571, and D. 575 all occupy the period between June and August of 1817 in the Deutsch catalog. On the other hand D. 845 and D. 850 were both composed in 1825 (with some uncertainty about the month for D. 845).
1825 appears to be the year when Schubert began to flex his inventive muscles in the interest of working with longer durations. It was the year in which he began working on the D. 944 (“Great”) symphony in C major, which was completed the following year. That following year also saw the composition of the D. 894 four-movement sonata in G major, which Schubert himself called a Fantasia and serves up a first movement that definitely justifies Robert Schumann’s “heavenly length” epithet. Of the two 1825 sonatas on the new Feltsman release, he seems more comfortable with the prolongations of D. 850, while his approach to the minor-key D. 845 comes across as more than a little affected. (D. 894 was the “main attraction” on Feltsman’s very first release, and I was much more convinced with that interpretation than I was by his D. 845 recording.)
Readers may also recall that, in December of 2017, I wrote about the twelve-CD collection of the complete solo piano music by Franz Schubert performed by Austrian pianist Gilbert Schuchter on a Bosendorfer grand piano. Nimbus has not provided any information for the piano that Feltsman played for the Volume 5 release; but it is clearly not a “historical” instrument. While I do not object to Schubert being given convincing accounts on more recent instruments, given Schuchter’s account of the full canon, I have to wonder just how sensitive Feltsman was to the context established by each of his releases, just as I am concerned about how much longer his project with Nimbus will endure. As a result, while I have had few discontents with Feltsman’s readings of Schubert, I suspect that I shall not be consistently turning to him as a “reference resource” when writing subsequent articles about the development of Schubert’s approach to composition.