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AN 2 9185 – Mathieu Gaudet Vol.5 Warmth

Schubert: The Complete Sonatas and Major Piano Works, Vol.5 - Warmth

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Release date October 22, 2021
Album code AN 2 9185
Periods Romantic
Genres Piano

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The next morning was indeed the most
beautiful day in the world and of the world:
[the mountain range] shone and glittered
with splendour in the full sunlight or,
on the contrary, against the light.

– Franz Schubert, 1825

While it is true that Schubert’s music is often tinged with a hushed melancholy, at times it is suffused with an optimistic, bountiful light that ardently celebrates life. The latter is true of the radiant Sonata No. 16 in D Major, D. 850, which forms the last part of Schubert’s 1825 triptych and was composed during his summer holidays in the mountains during a sun-filled month of August. The work stands as a vibrant testimony to Schubert’s love of nature and to the energy he derived from it.

The first movement is exceptionally exuberant. Marked “Allegro 2/2, a perpetuum mobile” and written as if in one fell stroke, it bursts with energy and invention. The short un poco più lento e con capriccio that breaks through the second theme yields a moment of striking originality. The second movement, marked “Andante con moto,” is perhaps the most passionate piano music Schubert ever composed. Its opening part reveals a charming, constantly modulating ländler, setting the stage for the second theme’s breathtaking flight. This theme’s characteristic syncopations and harmonic progressions create unparalleled sensuality and, indeed, a quality of irresistible desire. A short, muted pianissimo interlude graces this movement with an aura of enchantment.

The scherzo provides a moment of rare intensity. Marked “Allegro vivace,” it inexorably steams ahead in dotted rhythms, at times impetuous, at others playful, but always gleeful. The trio section is adapted from Schubert’s very first sonata, D.  157; conceived homophonically, it has an almost choral quality and provides a welcome contrast. Only in the final “Rondo, Allegro moderato” do we re-enter the familiar Schubertian discourse of subtlety, somewhere between a march, a dance, and a song, constantly toying with major-minor colour contrasts whose effect is indescribably nostalgic. The second interlude creates an exquisitely touching moment.

Equally upbeat, though more aristocratic in spirit than the previous, more lustful work, the Sonata No.  5 in A- at Major, D.  557 evinces a pure, post-classical character, making it the most conservative of the six sonatas of 1817. Nevertheless, it is a charming and exciting piece whose surprising second movement digresses from the traditional slow tempo in exchange for a humorous and lively allegretto in 2/4. Its central episode in E- at minor, akin to a diminutive toccata in eighth-note triplets, clearly evokes the two-part counterpoint of J. S. Bach, to whom it is certainly a tribute.

The Variations in A Minor, D.  576 are based on a theme by Anselm Hüttenbrenner (1794–1868), a member of Schubert’s close circle. A composer himself, Hüttenbrenner had already employed the same theme for variations in the slow movement of his own String Quartet in E Major. An obvious tribute to the slow movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Schubert had previously used it as the foundation of his lied Death and the Maiden, D.  531. Later, it also appears in the variations of the String Quartet in D Minor, D. 810. It is therefore safe to say that this melody will have haunted Schubert for many years.

The theme and 13 variations are strangely uniform, offering few contrasts, yet imbued with enigmatic beauty. Instead of reflecting Schubert’s Viennese heritage, they seem to favour a Renaissance aesthetic over the Classical theme and variations genre. And rather than adopting a well-mapped dramatic course – examples of which Mozart and Beethoven have so abundantly given us – this work appears as a meditation on a single feeling, like a kaleidoscope’s fractious images which one never tires of contemplating from new angles, captivated by their aching charm.

© Mathieu Gaudet, translation: Rachel Taylor

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Mathieu Gaudet
AN 2 9185 – Mathieu Gaudet Vol.5 Warmth
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