Schubert: Sonatas D959, D960 (DG)
★★★★★ (out of five)
Some records grab you by the ears, others take longer to impress. It is in no sense to Krystian Zimerman’s discredit that his first attempt at late Schubert took three spins on my deck before I grasped the originality of his interpretation. Rather, it is a mark of Zimerman’s thoughtfulness that the heart of the music is revealed layer by layer in a manner that makes you want to listen again and again.
Winner of the 1975 Chopin competition, the Polish pianist has been playing these pieces for half his life before he was ready to record them. Any pianist who does so is faced with daunting antecedents: Artur Schnabel, Sviatoslav Richter, Rudolf Serkin, Alfred Brendel, Maurizio Pollini. Nothing that Zimerman does suggests that he has heard any of these.
His opening touch in the penultimate sonata is forthright, even aggressive, a statement of Schubert’s physical vigour in his last year of life, up to his final illness. Nor is there anything remotely self-pitying in the contemplative Andantino movement; for Zimerman this is a man trying to work his way slowly out of a musical maze, emerging in the gentlest light.
The final sonata underlines this sense of the composer’s bewilderment at his world, his frustration at his inability to make sense of the inexplicable. Once again, there is nothing morbid in the Andante, just a sigh at the elusiveness of it all. As always, there’s a new song coming along. This is matchless musicianship on Zimerman’s part, three-dimensional, endlessly connective. The music might have been written the day before yesterday.