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- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Today Schubert's last piano sonatas safely belong to the standard repertoire for any classical music fans, but many people seem to be largely uninterested in other sonatas. Thus there are relatively few "complete" recordings, while the market is full of recordings featuring the last three (or usually one or two of these).
Last year I was searching for a "complete" set of Schubert's sonatas. I already had had "complete" ones by Badura-Skoda and Kempff and listened many times to "semi-complete" ones by Uchida, et al. Badura-Skoda's playing is excellent with a complete understanding of Schubert's idiom, but the sound of the fortepianos he uses is clangy and hard to listen. Kempff gives us an excellent interpretation of the early sonatas, but he is unimaginative and bland in some of the middle and late ones. Uchida has a great sense of touch, but she often over-indulges herself and tries to be over-romantic. Then I came across this one by Michael Endres. I'm quite surprised that this excellent set hasn't acquired a review yet so far.
This set is almost complete, with all the major sonatas included. This is adequate, though I miss the E major sonata (D. 459) or the F-sharp minor sonata (D. 571), which are not included. In fact, there are almost no perfectly complete recordings of Schubert's sonatas, since he left a large body of fragments and unfinished works. If you are not interested in those which are not included, then this set will be fine. Though relatively unknown compared to those great "Schubertian" pianists, this German pianist delivers an interpretation which is solid yet rich in tone and sensitivity. He maintains his balance, and has a firm grasp of the tempo and touch. These are things even great pianists fail to do when playing Schubert's sonatas.
Where his solid approach shines most is the middle-period sonatas. If you had listened to these sonatas played by other pianists, you will be surprised to notice how these gems can be done much more satisfyingly. While Schubert's middle-period sonatas may lack the otherworldly serenity or depth of his last sonatas, they does have a wide array of emotion, with interesting modulations and vitality. They show that the last sonatas are the result of a long development in Schubert's musical world all the way through his life. Endres definitely knows how to play this works and his interpretation suits each work very well. You can hear his solid touch with full chord in the D major sonata (D. 850) and the C minor sonata (D. 958). His tone shows utmost subtlely, as you can see in his rendition of the F minor sonata (D. 625) or the "Reliquie" sonata in C (D. 840). He is fully aware of the songlike, flowing quality of those sonatas when needed, as in the E minor sonata (D. 566), the A major sonata (D. 664). His playing is full of grandiose and vitality in the famous A major sonata (D. 959). In the 1st movement of the A minor sonata (D. 784), which has attracted a few great pianists such as Richter, he captures both the anguished, desolate burst and the serene contemplation. Some may be unfamiliar with the relatively fast tempo, but the tempo marking is "Allegro giusto" anyway.
This set is excellent overall, but has its weaknesses. His late sonatas (the last three) are good, but not really outstanding compared to many great recordings of these sonatas. While his playing of the C minor sonata and the A major sonata has its excellent moments in the fast movements, the last B-flat major sonata is somewhat plain (though well-balanced) compared to Pollini, Perahia, Lupu or Richter. The slow movements of those three sonatas are good, but doesn't offer us the magical serenity and depth as some great pianists do. But this is not to say that his playing is inferior at all. He does well, but the competition is just too fierce for Endres to be the top choice when it comes to Schubert's last sonatas.
Highly recommended for anyone interested in Schubert's sonatas other than the last three, especially the middle-period ones. The F minor sonata and the "Reliquie" sonata is particularly worth notice, and these might be the high point of this set. Deserves to be known more.