The Schubertian, April 2011

Schubert: Sonata in D major, D850; 16 Ländler, D734; Drei Klavierstücke, D946

Béla Hartmann (piano). Meridian CDE 84594

On this, his debut CD, Béla Hartmann – a SIUK member and performer at Schubert Days in the past – provides an all-Schubert programme, in which 16 of the composer’s dances are sandwiched in between the more substantial D-major Sonata, written during his visit to Gastein in August 1825, and the Three Piano Pieces, composed in 1828. Not that the Ländler D734, dating from about 1822 and published together with two Ecossaises as op.67 four years later, are insubstantial; on the contrary, these individually very short pieces when taken as a whole form a most satisfying larger structure and Hartmann is alive to the occasional subtle shift of key, invariably up or down a third, as well as to the possibility of effective dynamic and tempo nuances.

The Three Piano Pieces, Impromptus in all but name, are despatched with great finesse by Hartmann. In the first piece, in E flat minor, there is an impressive contrast between the restless energy of the triplet quavers in the Allegro assai outer sections and the lyrical songlike Andante middle section. The shifts of mood and pianistic colour between the main theme (in E flat major) and episodes (in C minor / major and A flat minor) in the Allegretto second piece are beautifully handled and Hartmann is also successful in evoking both the stormy, Beethovenian energy of the Allegro main theme (in C major) and the dreamlike quality of the D flat major central section in the third piece.

In his liner notes, Hartmann describes the D-major Sonata as “one of these rare things: a Sonata by Schubert without a hint of death of it”. There is certainly plenty of drama in the opening Allegro, but Hartmann’s formidable technique enables him to cope admirably with the flurry of triplet quavers as well as to suggest a joie de vivre that becomes increasingly rare in Schubert’s music towards the end of his life. Hartmann also revels in the harmonic richness of the Con moto slow movement and is particularly convincing in the passage that leads to the first decorated return of the main theme and in the lovely valedictory coda. His playing in the Allegro vivace Scherzo is full of rhythmical verve and the sharp dynamic contrasts in both Scherzo and Trio are meticulously observed. His choice of tempi throughout is exemplary, not least in the Allegro moderato Rondo finale, where the moderate unhurried pace enables Hartmann to do justice to the semiquaver movement in the first and second (Un poco piu lento) episodes and both decorated restatements of the main theme.

On the strength of this recording, we look forward keenly to hearing Béla Hartmann live at our Schubert Day in June when his programme will include another sonata that Schubert wrote in 1825 - the Sonata in C (“Reliquie”) D840.

© Crawford Howie March 2011



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