The latest instalment of Barry Douglas’s Schubert survey includes the A-minor Piano Sonata D784. It’s a compelling reading, the opening movement (Allegro giusto) soulful, funereal-drums suggested, with dramatic dynamic contrasts and emotional upheavals, countered by a lyrical beauty and Douglas’s sensitive touch. This rendition paints pictures – footsteps in the snow – and conjures soundalikes – tolling bells; and, throughout, Douglas’s concentration draws the listener in with a sense of rightness to convey that this music has the power of theatre. Following which the brief Andante blossoms poetically, its underlying darkness brushed aside by the Allegro vivace Finale, music that vies between storm-tossed rage and expressive entreaties, a dichotomy that Douglas embraces totally until the emphatic end.
The expansive D-major Sonata D850 is also very fine, the rumbustious opening movement vigorous yet perfectly poised and variegated; then the multifaceted Con moto second movement (the Sonata’s longest, with hints of a samba) is fully explored by Douglas, interest in it sustained; the Scherzo dances delightfully, robust and liltingly insouciant, staying long in the memory, with a Trio that is more clandestine; and the Finale initially walks with a light-hearted gait, gathering pace and diversions if sure of its arrival (simply an affectionate look-back and quiet contentment) aided by Douglas’s wholesome grasp of twists and turns.
For encores, as it were, although there is a concert-hall spontaneity to these Sonata performances, recorded with clarity and immediacy by Jonathan Cooper, Douglas offers two favourite Schubert songs, both from Schwanengesang D957, as transcribed and elaborated by Liszt – a diptych beautifully rendered to serenade us, if hopefully not a swansong (yet) for Barry Douglas’s inestimable Schubert cycle. Chandos CHAN 20157.