. . . on first hearing I was marvelling at the incredible sound that Zimerman was producing, wondering how on earth he had achieved it! . . . The varied overtones combine to make it sound like the piano has been tuned to some strange new intonation, so much so that at times I was almost fooled into thinking that Zimerman was indeed playing on an instrument from Schubert's time. Similarly, the second movement of D959, a kind of melancholy "Valse triste", sounds otherworldly and hauntingly mesmerising in Zimerman's hands. His voicing of chords is exquisite, and by bringing out the accents and other dynamic markings, he highlights some of the more unexpected harmonies, making it sound eerily modern in places . . . the way he shapes a phrase is a joy to listen to, and he knows exactly how to pace the longer movements. He also brings great charm and an appealingly direct simplicity to the Scherzo of D959 and the third movement of D960, while the very end of the first movement of D959 is played with affection and a gentle care that is most agreeable. Zimerman has said that, although he has been performing these works for thirty years, he has not recorded them until now out of a combination of fear and respect for these cornerstones of the repertoire; with such a highly impressive account of both sonatas it has definitely been worth the wait!
It's out. And it was worth the wait . . . These are unlike any other interpretations of these works that I've heard: he makes them entirely his own, and they scrub up like buried treasure after a bath. Yet with such eloquent phrasing, you feel Schubert himself is speaking to you directly, with something urgent, profound and life-affirming to communicate. If you only listen to one thing this week, make sure it's this.
Zimerman, quite simply, sounds like no one else. That's partly down to the instrument, having inserted into his Steinway a keyboard he has made himself . . . this keyboard is intended to be better able to sustain a cantabile line . . . Every element of these two sonatas has been thought out, considered . . . [the results] tend towards the transcendent. Take the second movement of the A major Sonata, D959. Just listen to the accompaniment, the way that the minutest of shifts in terms of touch recolours it. And then there are the gradations of colour, of dynamic. Nothing is ever fixed, but living, breathing . . . As Zimerman leads back to the opening material, the sense of the initial music being scarred by what has happened is searing. Time and again, Zimerman flouts received wisdom -- his opening movement to D960 . . . sets off at a flowing pace but there's plenty of time for the unexpected . . . He does the same thing in the slow movement: the first 30 seconds draw you into a world of such detail it's as if you've never heard the piece before. And yet -- and this is the miraculous bit -- there's no sense of that detail winning over long-term . . . The instrument comes into its own where the music builds to climaxes without ever losing clarity in the bass. The Scherzo of D960 is fascinating -- it's elfin, yes, but rather than mere playfulness there's a gentleness to it . . . The perfection with which he weights the closing chords is another heart-stopping moment. In the finale, there's again so much that is inimitable: the opening octave is brusque in attack and yet not snatched, while the rhapsody of the playing is staggeringly beguiling, as is the interplay between silence and sound. It is a journey of great intensity . . . This is a marvellously life‑enhancing release. Go and hear it for yourself.
Characteristically, the performances have been prepared with immense care. To recreate something of the sound world that Schubert would have known, Zimerman used a tailor-made piano . . . the hammers strike the strings at a different point, creating a new set of overtones and hence a different range of keyboard colours, and the action becomes lighter too . . . [the piano sound] allows Zimerman to create textures of fabulous transparency and flexibility, especially in the slow movements of both sonatas . . . both sonatas have an unfailing sense of rightness and proportion to them, with every choice of tempo seeming natural and unforced, while the attention that Zimerman pays to the minutest detail of the phrasing never becomes an end in itself . . . [few recordings of both sonatas] are so consistently thoughtful and musical, and so technically impeccable too.
Zimerman attends to the architecture in Schubert, careful to balance phrases and dynamics in poetic symmetry. The opening Allegro of the Sonata in A Major enjoys an elegant aristocracy in its octave leap and wistful triplet figures. Zimerman can clarify the polyphonic passages in Schubert without sacrificing their grace . . . [4th movement]: Zimerman provides a forceful momentum throughout, and his fortes ring with conviction . . . [D 960]: Zimerman's expansive reading has both breadth and sustained authority . . .
Schubert's late sonatas allow the pianist to demonstrate every facet of his art. The flowing legato lyricism that makes his Chopin so compelling is much in evidence, especially in the first movement of D 960 and the Andantino second of D 959 (the highlight of the disc). But he also brings clear rhythmic focus to the two scherzos and dramatic sweep to the first movements . . . [the unusual finale of D 960] fits perfectly into Zimerman's distinctive interpretation . . . Definitive accounts . . .
. . . [Zimerman's performances are] propulsive, alive to every detail, and full of subtle, gentle expression. It is peerless playing.
. . . most impressive . . . a musician of truly aristocratic refinement . . . everything he plays is pondered over down to the last detail . . . It's the magic of Zimerman's own surpassing pianism that makes this album so wonderful . . . Everywhere there are wonderfully eloquent details, like the way he adds a touch of pedal in the mysterious Andante in the B Flat Major Sonata, at the moment where the music moves into a new key. It's as if the clouds part, to reveal a starry night sky.
. . . absorbing . . . [Zimerman's] virtuoso technique makes light of the technical demands of both the A major (D959) and B-flat major (D960) works, yet it is the tonal colouring and shading, his assured control of dynamics and ability to integrate the sudden lurches from dramatic despair to unbound joy, that make these performances so satisfying . . . the two scherzos and the B-flat major's finale are dashed off with panache.
He has a wonderful sense of the structure and architecture of the works, and his pacing of them seems just right. These are expansive readings with care given to rests and pauses, allowing the music to unfold naturally and give the listener a sense of music being created on the wing . . . Any rubato feels unforced and subtle, in order, maybe, to highlight expression or create tension. Pedalling is restrained and judiciously applied, facilitating lightening of textures. I don't think I've ever heard the slow movements played as effectively. They never wallow in self-pity. The Scherzos that follow them, in each case, provide a blithe and gladsome contrast . . . Zimerman's wise choices and meticulous attention to detail have paid off with rich dividends. The warm, sympathetic acoustic of the recording venue fully captures the sonorous, richly burnished piano sound. Everything is clear and detailed, with sensitive pedalling unleashing an array of colour and tonal shading, in addition to some arresting sonorities. These are top drawer performances by any standards.
It is in no sense to Krystian Zimerman's discredit that his first attempt at late Schubert took three spins on my deck before I grasped the originality of his interpretation. Rather, it is a mark of Zimerman's thoughtfulness that the heart of the music is revealed layer by layer in a manner that makes you want to listen again and again . . . His opening touch in the penultimate sonata is forthright, even aggressive . . . Nor is there anything remotely self-pitying in the contemplative Andantino movement; for Zimerman this is a man trying to work his way slowly out of a musical maze, emerging in the gentlest light . . . Once again, there is nothing morbid in the Andante, just a sigh at the elusiveness of it all . . . This is matchless musicianship on Zimerman's part, three-dimensional, endlessly connective.