. . . 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.
The playing is wonderfully clean . . . both works are superbly performed . . . the execution is flawless . . . immense sophistication . . . impressively crisp and very natural.
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.
Krystian Zimerman's solo recordings, such as his Debussy Préludes, still fascinate decades after they were recorded and released . . . [D 959]: the playing has a clarity which in many ways is quite self-effacing . . . The Andantino second movement opens with an almost pointillist transparency, Zimerman avoiding a funereal tempo but still making the music's poignant message unmistakable. That stormy central section has plenty of drama . . . The Scherzo sweeps us away from this moment of profound soul-searching, Zimerman delivering fireworks with those little spread upper chords to distract us from the gloom, the lightness of the piano action really telling in this movement . . . a very convincing performance indeed . . . [D 960]: This is playing that seeks out the song-like nature of the music, creating narrative without over-burdening the material with artificial player-imposed profundity . . . [this is the recording for] when you want to experience Schubert's musical narrative right up close and personal.
. . . Zimerman takes us into a place of deep introspection, finding vast universes within. The recorded sound, by Rainer Maillard, is beautifully judged, combining gentleness with absolute clarity . . . ln both sonatas, Zimerman offers us finely graded dynamics and modestly integrated tempos. Throughout, my overriding feeling was that his Schubert seems utterly natural . . . The slow movements are played with grace, the Scherzos and finales sparkle. Unmissable.
Any disc by the elusive Polish pianist is an event, but his late Schubert is visionary here.
His attention to detail is overwhelming, but it's the tenderness that got me.
. . . Krystian Zimerman's wonderfully poetic accounts of two of Schubert's late sonatas . . . uses a specially made keyboard that he designed himself, to enable the effortlessly light touch and subtle shading that illuminate these performances.
. . . [Zimerman's] tone is simultaneously resonant and translucent, a winning compromise between modern and historical aesthetics. Recording engineer Rainer Maillard captured the sound magically . . . Zimerman's interpretations rank with the finest -- securely paced but pausing selectively over details, underscoring Schubert's mercurial moods without sounding gimmicky.
Magnificent Schubert . . . [Zimerman's first solo studio release in decades] reaffirms his standing as one of the greatest living pianists . . . [the A major work is] a piece of colossal ambition which Zimerman gauges to perfection.
. . . astonishing . . . Zimerman's technical command is prodigious and unfaltering, yet exclusively at the service of his searing vision . . . [he delivers] the naked essence of Schubert without fuss or indirection . . . The opening of the Sonata in A major could hardly be more imperious or propulsive, the finale's "heavenly length" all too short. Again, in the Sonata in B-flat the outward manner is disarmingly straightforward . . . these fiercely uncompromising readings stand out like a beacon of blazing light.
The sound world of this disc is immediately striking . . . But it's not just the singing tone that sets these performances apart: Zimerman's take on these two late sonatas is carefully thought through and deeply felt.
Krystian Zimerman opens D959 boldly, the attack is weighty, gruff, and there follows a range of touch, colour and dynamics -- the result is imperious, vibrant and volatile -- and come the development section (which brings a persuasive increase in tempo) the clarity of Zimerman's fingering is astonishing and musically charged; it's as if he went into the studio and just played, although we know he is one of the most scrupulous and painstaking of artists . . . [the ripple and roar] of the central section is a measure of Zimerman's concern for contrasts . . . the Trio is notably expressive, and the Finale, with a gambolling gait, is fully seized of its direction; once resolution is spied it is delivered with certainty . . . superb . . .
There's imagination and musicianship and fabulous playing to be found that amounts -- especially after listening to a few other recent releases of late Schubert sonatas -- to something rather tremendous. The will-o'-the-wisp scherzi, for example. Bright sparks are flying here . . . In the opening movement of the Sonata in A major D. 959 he works incessantly toward some dramatic goal, with a compelling arc above it. There's a nice drive to the Allegro and it establishes delicious auto-locomotion. The following Andantino begins hesitatingly, stalking, but shows moments of real tumult and destruction, contrasting a blenched lightness with a bitter darkness. That's very good . . . [the D major Sonata, D.960] constantly pricks and surprises and delights the ears. Zimerman's fingerprints and smudges move me here . . . The opening is hesitant, sophisticated and profound, and yet gentle and artless like a lullaby. There is space between the notes with Zimerman, room for interpretation and imagination. The Andante is luminously devout. The last movement (Allegro ma non troppo) comes in like a hammer hitting down . . . This is terrific musicianship performed with all the ability in the world. It is a strong, but never wilful interpretation of Schubert. And it's just really, undeniably good. I'm looking forward to the next Krystian Zimerman album . . .
On this outstanding CD from DG, Polish virtuoso Krystian Zimerman gives trenchant, poignant and technically brilliant accounts of D959 and D960 using a conventional piano fitted with a keyboard which he designed and built himself so as to sound more closely like one which Schubert would have known; and so presumably more capable of obtaining the sound for which he composed. There is greater percussiveness for sure. Although this is no fortepiano. And the emphases are gentle and unobtrusive. The hammers strike a different part of the strings. This allows for a more sustained "singing" sound; and a lighter one. This takes less getting used to than you might think. The overtones are richer and yet may suggest an unfamiliar tuning. A couple of listens reveals a depth and sense of sonority which put these great works exactly where they belong. That is, on the cusp of the Classical and Romantic eras. Zimerman's playing is crisp but never trite; incisive without insistence; precise but shot through with personality and spontaneity. At the same time it's full of feeling but never muddy; warm and colored yet lacking in superfluous emotional overlay. Above all, Zimerman uses his deep understanding of the architecture of each movement to make these special performances. These accounts of the Sonatas as a whole convey the mellow and almost valedictory nature which can typify Schubert's last works . . . The acoustic of the Kashiwazaki City Performing Arts Center-Forêt in Japan . . . appropriately supports those aspects of Zimerman's playing which benefit from transparency and penetration. The short booklet consists of a brief interview with Krystian Zimerman by Jessica Duchen. His answers to her questions are revealing and convincing: he pulls out Schubert's anti-militarism; the way in which the composer seems to offer musical ideas without imposing them; and Zimerman's own professionalism and belief in his "right" to be an artist. If you're of the belief that you can never have too many interpretations of these amazing sonatas, in these by Zimerman you'll enjoy a beautiful balance between the bitter and sweet, and between nostalgia and hope.
. . . [Zimermans Aufnahme bietet] neue Einsichten vor allem in die Klang-, aber auch in die Ausdruckswelt von Schuberts Musik . . . [er] überzeugt und fasziniert . . . So haben wir Schuberts pianistische Schwanengesänge noch nie gehört: ungemein kantabel, jeder Ton inspiriert und diszipliniert, kristallin klar und lebendig artikuliert. ln Zimermans Schubertspiel manifestiert sich ein Höchstmass an Reife und Einsicht, an geistiger Durchdringung und -- bei Zimerman eh eine Selbstverständlichkeit -- an manueller Perfektion . . . [Zimerman gelingt es, dem Beginn der B-Dur-Sonate] auch einen heiteren Optimismus abzugewinnen. Vor allem das Seitenthema perlt und glitzert . . . Ähnliche Eindrücke in der A-Dur-Sonate: Nichts wird zergrübelt; Zimerman bauscht die Musik nicht sentimental auf . . . obwohl Vieles sehr virtuos und lebensfreudig daherkommt. Die himmlischen Längen werden unter seinen Händen zu himmlischen Schuberterlebnissen, zu einem vielfältigen Kosmos emotionaler Befindlichkeiten . . . besonders beeindruckend, ja fast verstörend im Andantino der A-Dur-Sonate, auf erschütternde Art hochexpressiv.
So haben wir Schuberts pianistische Schwanengesänge noch nie gehört: ungemein kantabel, jeder Ton inspiriert und diszipliniert, kristallin klar und lebendig artikuliert. In Zimermans Schubertspiel manifestiert sich ein Höchstmass an Reife und Einsicht, an geistiger Durchdringung und -- bei Zimerman eh eine Selbstverständlichkeit -- an manueller Perfektion. Eigentlich ist es paradox: Immer mehr tritt beim Hören Schubert in den Vordergrund, und den genialen Pianisten scheint man mehr und mehr fast ganz zu vergessen -- nur noch Schuberts Musik ist da. Zimerman gelingt es, dem Beginn der B-Dur-Sonate, diesem grossen, oft düsteren, zuweilen fast jenseitigen Mysterium, auch einen heiteren Optimismus abzugewinnen. Vor allem das Seitenthema perlt und glitzert -- bis die Stimmung von einem jähen Basstriller zerstört wird. Ähnliche Eindrücke in der A-Dur-Sonate: Nichts wird zergrübelt; Zimerman bauscht die Musik nicht sentimental auf, verzichtet (meistens) auch auf die Pranke des grossen Virtuosen, obwohl Vieles sehr virtuos und lebensfreudig daherkommt. Die himmlischen Längen werden unter seinen Händen zu himmlischen Schuberterlebnissen, zu einem vielfältigen Kosmos emotionaler Befindlichkeiten. Das kann an Grenzen gehen -- besonders beeindruckend, ja fast verstörend im Andantino der A-Dur-Sonate, auf erschütternde Art hochexpressiv. Schubert für die einsame Insel.
. . . [Zimerman schöpft] den von ihm selbst bestimmten klanglich-dynamischen Rahmen voll aus. Beispielsweise bei dem bis heute ungeheuerlich modern und hier geradezu schockierend wirkenden Ausbruch im Andantino der A-Dur-Sonate. Die von Zimerman kontrolliert eskalierte Entwicklung mündet hier in geradezu bruitistische Akkordschläge, die noch im eigentlich beruhigenden Cis-Dur-Gesang der Rückführung und der variierten Wiederkehr des Anfangs nachbeben. Und am Schluss dieses in jeder Hinsicht aussergewöhnlichen Satzes zelebriert Zimerman dann sogar eine Auflösung jeglichen "schönen" Klanges in der nachtschwarz in der Tiefe rumorenden Akkordmühle der Schlusstakte. Vergleichbares ereignet sich im Finale der B-Dur-Sonate bei der wie manisch wiederkehrenden Oktave auf G, deren knochig-hölzerner Sforzato-Akzent eigenartig fahl verklingt und . . . durch das gesamte Rondothema schimmert. Dies sind Effekte, die nur ein Klang-Bastler wie Zimerman wagen und gleichzeitig überzeugend in den Grundton seiner Interpretation einbinden kann. Dieser bleibt, bei allen avancierten Schärfungen, immer gesanglich und wird überdies veredelt durch ein sogar in Oktavpassagen frappierend dichtes Legato . . . [Zimerman nimmt sich] die Freiheit, sogar gleich notierte Töne und Phrasen unterschiedlich zu artikulieren. Immer mit dem Ziel, diese in verzweifelter Innerlichkeit gegen das Verstummen ansingende Musik mit neuer Dringlichkeit zum Reden zu bringen. Mag sein, dass Zimermans eigener Hang zum Verstummen als Interpret die Voraussetzung war für die Intensität, mit der ihm dies gelingt.