It is a bold and brave young pianist who chooses Schubert’s late, great C minor Sonata as the centerpiece on her calling-card. Some might even say foolhardy: not me, though, – or at any rate, not in this instance. The best thing here is that sonata’s finale, a whirlwind night-ride of a rondo in six-eight time that threatens to turn into a perpetuum mobile , so teeming and unstoppable is Schubert’s invention. Its extraordinary twists and turns, its stops and starts, its ability to find its way back, half-humorously, to the main tune pose a terrific challenge to the player; not just in terms of getting the fingers around the notes, but even more of stamina and of preserving the architecture. Not to mention imbuing it with the right kind of characterization – humour, maybe, not excluded.
The pianist here passes most of the finale’s tests with flying colours. Anja German, who is 22 and from Slovenia, won the first Manchester International Concerto Competition last year, and this solo release is part of her prize. Her Schubert sonata has many fine qualities: she is well inside the lyrical intensity of the wonderful Adagio – which starts and ends in A flat but roams wildly elsewhere, much of the time: she does not, however, differentiate the various levels of piano that Schubert expressly marks. Can it have been her decision to omit the first movement exposition repeat, and the second-half repeat of the Scherzo furst time around? I hope not: both are vital, no question, and there was more than enough room on the disc. Nor is she ideally served by the piano at her disposal here: it is an ungrateful instrument, which is ugly and brittle in the top register.
With the Haydn we are still in C minor, and she tackles this intelligently, too: it is a far from innocent work, the product of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang period, and though I would not call it quirky like some of the other later sonatas, it certainly feels as if the composer is exploring or experimenting. She may not smile often, musically speaking, but I have the sense that German is well in sympathy with the classical idiom – though there is nothing wrong with her Chopin either, as her forceful execution of the B flat minor Scherzo , fervent and sensitive by turns, amply demonstrates.
There are good notes on the music from Murray McLachlan, himself a pianist of course and also Chairman of the jury for the Manchester competition. There is an informative note on the (biennial) competition itself, and a modest biography of the pianist.
I have decided not to cite any comparisons, despite having originally put the likes of Perahia and Andsnes on the player, in the Schubert, That is not really the point of this release, which mercifully makes no grandiose claims of the kind indulged in by some of the larger conglomerates. On its own terms, then, I have much enjoyed this recital; and of course the repertoire is wonderful! Anja German is very young and would doubtless be the first to admit that she still has a way to go, but that calling-card is now duly marked.
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