FANFARE MAGAZINE

Franz Schubert

Piano Sonata in a, D 845. 3 Klavierstücke, D 946 • Phillip Kawin (pn) • MASTER PERFORMERS 15 001 (69:41)

In the illuminating interview that serves as the program note for this release, Phillip Kawin clearly sets out his musical priorities: structural proportion and “balance between the many diverse elements,” coupled with a rich tone and singing legato. Those priorities emerge just as clearly in these finely poised and self-possessed performances, elegant in their touch, graceful in their phrasing (few sharp edges here), artful in their voicing, and unfailingly alert to the music’s harmonic nuances and its variations in emotional flavor. This is not massive Schubert in the manner of Richter’s performance of the A-Minor Sonata; Kawin’s dynamic range is comparatively restricted. Nor is Kawin’s Schubert tightly wound in the manner of Pollini’s. But while Kawin does veer more toward understatement than to explosive power, his playing is far from meek and far from impersonal.

The first movement of the sonata, for instance, is taken at a quite a clip—and although, as you might expect from Kawin’s basic temperament, there’s not a trace of rush (much less frenzy), he still generates a bracing momentum, in part because he has such a sure control over the music’s large-scale trajectory. The Andante poco moto is striking, too, both for wonderful interweaving of lines in the first variation (I’d love to hear him play Bach), and even more for the way he points up the wide-ranging spirit of the movement as a whole: He’s especially impressive at bringing out the tipsiness of the Ländler-like second variation and the wackiness of the fourth (which seems to look ahead to Alkan). And although Colin Clarke (in a review that was posted on the Fanfare site before the rest of the issue) was struck by the “valedictory slant” of the last of the Klavierstücke, I only hear that quality, faintly, in the middle section; the outer sections, in contrast, are unusually vibrant, with excellent handling of the music’s quirky rhythms in a way that brings the recital to an upbeat close.

In sum, if you’re looking for some low-key but imaginative and gorgeously played Schubert, you’ll find this an attractive issue. As I said, the notes are excellent, although there are some crossed wires in the discussion of the two editions of the first Klavierstück (for the record, Kawin plays the longer version); and the sound is unusually good. All in all, warmly recommended.

FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz

Copyright © 2020 by Fanfare Inc.

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