Bernard Roberts plays Schubert – CR5362


“An enjoyable disc, played with great dignity and a high degree of skill”

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Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)

Sonata in B flat major, D.960

Molto moderato

Andante sostenuto

Scherzo: Allegro vivace con delicatezza

Allegro ma non troppo – Presto

This is the last of the three big sonatas that Schubert wrote in September 1828, shortly before he died. While not necessarily implying that Schubert had a presentiment of his coming death, the mood of this work is in general very subdued and reflective: looking and harking back over his creative life, as it were. Some of the old demonic fire appears occasionally, but mostly we hear the deeply expressive outpourings of the “Wandering Singer” that we have learned to love so much, cast into a four-movement piano sonata of “heavenly length”.

Schubert is often accused of this “heavenly length”, but he expresses himself quite differently from some of the more concisely-working artists of this world; and in this sonata in particular we must join him on a very long journey, as we do when we hear the “Winterreise” song cycle.

There are some wonderful revelations on this journey, particularly through his sense of key and miraculous modulation. All journeys have to end and the final Rondo- Allegro just stops, in thin air. The Presto coda is a rather desperate formality which has to bring us down to earth otherwise we imagine the Schubert-soul singing into eternity.

Drei Klavierstiicke, D.946

No.1 in E flat minor – Allegro assai

No.2 in E flat major – Allegretto

No.3 in C major – Allegro

These three piano pieces were written in 1828, the incredible last year of Schubert’s life, when so many masterpieces poured from his pen: to mention but few, the last three piano sonatas and the great C major String Quintet. They range through the whole gamut of Schubert’s expressive moods from heroic despair to the utmost, almost sentimental tenderness. All three are in a loosely-knit Rondo form, rather like his well-known Impromptus; and the episodic sections in particular have much mysterious harmonic colour and daring. ©2003 Bernard Roberts.

Bernard Roberts has long been acknowledged as one of Britain’s leading pianists. A particularly profound interpreter of Beethoven, his recording of the 32 Piano Sonatas on Compact Disc over fifteen years ago, for Nimbus Records, received the highest praise in Europe and America as well as in this country. His recording of the 48 Preludes and Fugues of J.S. Bach, and the complete set of Partitas were equally well received.

He has performed at many of the major British festivals over the years, and his international travels have taken him to the Far East, Southern Africa, America and Europe. Highly regarded as a teacher as well as a performer, he has given many recitals and masterclasses in Germany, France and Denmark, and in London he taught at the Royal College of Music for over forty years. He is now teaching at Chetham’s School for musically gifted children in Manchester.

Bernard Roberts has often appeared as a concerto soloist: at the “Proms” and with leading British orchestras and conductors, and he has been well known to Radio 3 listeners for many years, as a recitalist and chamber musician.

He often appeared as concerto soloist with leading British orchestras (the ‘Proms’ included), while his exceptional gift as a chamber musician has long been valued. He enjoyed playing the piano trio repertoire with his sons.

Review: Music Web International

An enjoyable disc, played with great dignity and a high degree of skill.

Bernard Roberts died in 2013 after a lengthy and successful career. For collectors his most significant achievement was the first complete set of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas to be recorded “direct to disc”. This issue preserves his performances of one of the late Schubert sonatas and the set of Three Pieces D.946. This last was published many years after the composer’s death in 1868. The edition in which it became known was edited anonymously by Brahms who made rather free changes to Schubert’s manuscript and seems not to have concerned himself with following the composer’s clear instructions concerning a very large cut or, indeed, with the possibility that these pieces may or may not belong together. One must therefore treat the Three Pieces as a maybe-unfinished work in progress. That, along with the use of a modern piano, places the performance firmly in the category I like to think of as non-HIP. That does not preclude the possibility of an enjoyable half hour in the presence of a great master, which Schubert most assuredly is. His facility for subtly spinning a lovely melody over many minutes is as strong at the very end of his short life as it was during his early maturity. There is no such thing as ‘late Schubert’ but it is very easy to hear a premonition that the end was near in these beautiful pieces, the first two of which are quite substantial.

The B flat major Sonata is one of a celebrated trio of masterworks and is firmly established in the repertoire of all classical pianists. Roberts treats it with great dignity and a high degree of skill. Nothing about this says ‘listen to me’, this is pianism at the service of the composer. For me I would much prefer that service to be performed on a keyboard that Schubert might have used himself.

There is a huge gulf between the capabilities of a modern Steinway and a Viennese fortepiano such as, for example, the 1820 Brodmann used by András Schiff (on ECM2426). The range of colours and dynamics possible with the latter make any effort made on a Steinway Model D somewhat monochrome. The result is that contrasts are reduced or entirely lost. Once again, this does not make Bernard Roberts’ performance anything other than very musical, but it does mean that Schubert’s ‘heavenly length’ is sometimes a touch overlong because the variety of sounds he would himself   have expected are missing.

Claudio’s Colin Attwell has produced his usual highly realistic sound and if you enjoy the received wisdom of modern performance you could do a lot worse than hear this CD. After all, Schubert heard through nearly two centuries of accumulated tradition is still beautiful, if somewhat less lively than he might be. The useful but short liner notes are by the pianist. Since the disc is labelled Vol.1 one assumes there may be more to come. ©Dave Billinge.

Other Compact discs on the Claudio Label featuring Bernard Roberts include:

Dodgson Sonatas Vol.l Catalogue No. CC4431-2

Dodgson Sonatas Vol.2 Catalogue No. CC4941-2

Dodgson Piano Trios & Bagatelles Catalogue No. CC5257-2