Nature can be deceptive. Buds on the trees. Birds singing. Snowdrops and violets showing their green tips. But a cold gale is blowing. Spring? Not quite, I thought the other day. Winter is fighting a rear-guard battle although it perfectly knows that defeat is near. I lit the stove one more time. A bright, red flame sent a glowing light into the room and warmed my soul. But what did I see on the oven window? Black stains of soot! Red and black. Love and death. Two elements of the Romantic triad “Nature – Love – Death”. Schubert. Of course.
Hammering, insisting chords
Piano Sonata No. 16 in A Minor, D. 845. Franz Schubert wrote it between April and May 1825. The first movement is breath-taking, and if you are familiar with Schubert’s song cycle “Winter Journey” you will find parallels, the hammering, insisting chords alternating with a song-like melody – very characteristic for my beloved Schubert. The second movement starts in a light-hearted, easy flowing way, I would say it is a little superficial if I didn’t know better. Schubert never wrote anything superficial. The grave, solemn element sets in half way through the adagio.
The third movement is translucent like a crystal at first, elements of tenderness polish the rough edges. The final movement, written in the form of a rondo*, has a beautiful song-like melody again, but it’s not pristine, there’s a dark element lurking in the back. The stain on the glass.
At the beginning of the year, the young Chinese pianist Ran Jia has released a recording of D. 845, and it is interesting to compare it with a 2013 recording by Maria Joao Pires, one of my references for Schubert interpretations. I am amazed by the impression that Ran Jia, 27 years old, is already very close to the interpretation of Pires who has so much more experience with Schubert’s language.
Fluidity balanced by serenity
True, Pires plays the sonata with a little more fluidity, her articulation for example at the beginning of the second movement is more subtle. Ran hurries through the third and fourth movement while Pires gives Schubert more time to express himself without losing the joyful moments. But you can feel Ran’s dedication to Schubert. And with time she will – hopefully – discover the serenity that makes even Schubert’s darkest moments a beacon of hope.
In a recent interview with the German magazine “Fono Forum”, Ran said: “[Schubert’s] language is so simple. Every gesture is true. He mirrors the entire humaneness.” In another interview she had compared his music to Schubert putting his heart on the piano. Ran tries to capture Schubert’s spirit since she turned 14, the first time she heard another sonata, D. 959 in A major. She learned German to be closer to Schubert’s culture and follows, knowingly or unknowingly, Pires’ conviction that the pianist has to forget his own existence and listen exclusively to what the music has to say. Her aim is to have a dialogue with the composer. If Pires has already had long conversations with Schubert by the fireside, the Chinese pianist has just been invited to a first friendly chat.
© Charles Thibo