Volume Two of “Alfred Brendel Plays and Introduces Schubert
Piano Works”
is devoted to “Sonatas D845 and D850,” both
dating from 1825. The first, “Sonata in A Minor D845, Op. 42,”
was one of only three Piano Sonatas by Schubert that were
published during his lifetime.

According to Alfred Brendel, this “A Minor” work has an incomplete
first variation in the second movement. As of the time this film was
completed in the late 1970’s, he noted that the original Schubert
manuscript hadn’t survived, and the performer had to decide for
himself how to complete it. Apparently, pianist Paul Badura-Skoda
was the first to make the discovery of this and other errors in the
music. I’m mentioning this detail to highlight one of the many
insights Brendel provides in his introduction to the work.

During the pre-performance introductions in this series, as well
as while playing the pieces, it becomes obvious that Brendel has
carefully considered and reconsidered every aspect of Schubert’s
piano music. Additional proof of this scrutiny can be found in his
book, Music Sounded Out (Brendel 1990), containing an essay
entitled, “Schubert’s Last Sonatas.”

At any rate, the roughly 36-minute performance of this work was
beautifully played. As with Disc One, I got the impression again
that while he was always in intellectual and technical command,
Brendel gave a performance that almost seemed to “precious” and
“over-studied.” Maybe this is partially due to his facial “mannerisms”
and ticks, which seem to draw attention to themselves. Or maybe,
it’s just me.

The other work on this DVD, “Sonata in D Major D850, Op. 53,”
is longer, at roughly 39 minutes. During his introduction, Brendel
mentioned that the last movement, a Rondo, is the only movement
that Schubert wrote “…that could have been written by someone else.”
Be that as it may, it has an engaging melodic theme with a carefree
“skipping” character, which I found quite appealing.

As I may have mentioned earlier when discussing the Volume One
of this series, Schubert’s Sonatas can require extra patience from
the listener, perhaps due to his extended use of the form. In one
of his pre-performance talks, Brendel indicated that while Schubert
revered Beethoven and was not cowed by him, a comparison between
the two composers reveals Beethoven’s Sonatas as architecturally
solid, while Schubert’s Sonatas “happen.” He made a further
comparison here with the works of Gustav Mahler, whose ideas
could take the listener by surprise, as opposed to having a sense of
“inevitability.”

As a result, Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonatas can seem tedious in the
wrong hands. I’d personally like to hear them played by several
different pianists before I judge them. Still, I recommend “Alfred
Brendel Plays and Introduces Schubert Piano Works: Volume Two.”
Onward to Volume Three!