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Schubert: Sonatas D 959 & D 960 / David Deveau

Release Date: 03/04/2022
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30128
Composer:  Franz Schubert Performer:  David Deveau Number of Discs: 1

Distinguished pianist David Deveau returns to the Steinway & Sons label with eloquent performances of Schubert’s final two sonatas. These masterworks were composed in the last few months of his life.

“The entire range of human emotional experience seems contained in the pages of these two towering works, with the slow movements providing the emotional heart of each sonata. It’s no surprise that musicians and audiences return to these pieces over and over, for solace, and for hope, and for vanquishing despair.”
— David Deveau

Album Credits:
Recorded October 11-13, 2021 at the Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport, Massachusetts.
Producer: Claude Hobson
Read more Engineer: Tom Stephenson
Mastering: Tom Stephenson
Piano Technician: Christine Lovgren
Piano: Steinway Model D #586518 (New York)

Executive Producer: Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford
Photo of David Deveau: Michael J. Lutch

Schubert’s last two piano sonatas, D. 959 and D. 960, were written only a year after Beethoven’s death but in the last year of Schubert’s own life – and were not published for a decade thereafter. Both works contain echoes of Beethoven, but incorporated into Schubert’s mature style and with some of the growing emotionalism that was to characterize the Romantic era (Schubert intended to dedicate the sonatas to Hummel, who, like Schubert himself, helped usher in Romanticism in music). David Deveau’s readings in no way neglect the Romantic components of the music, but at the same time they showcase some of the works’ Classical proportions and the clarity with which Schubert presents, modifies and combines thematic material. This is an interesting approach, because it has the effect of highlighting ways in which these sonatas look back to earlier times while simultaneously striving toward a different pianistic future. For example, the first movement of D. 959 is wholly conventional in many ways, from the tonic-to-dominant modulation for the second theme to the traditional recapitulation, but it ends with an unexpected penultimate chord that helps tie this movement to the one that follows. In Deveau’s performance, the Classical-era balance of most of the movement makes its unusual conclusion that much clearer. The consistent beauties of Schubert’s themes are also very clear in Deveau’s readings: he lets the music flow with gentle beauty, time and again. But when Schubert indulges in a level of playfulness quite different from anything in Beethoven – in the third movement of D. 959, for example – Deveau readily accepts this element of the composer’s style. The result is that even when Schubert’s transitions are quite abrupt – or nonexistent, as the music sometimes simply stops doing one thing to start doing another – Deveau holds the material together so it emerges with greater cohesiveness than might be expected. This works particularly well in the development section of the first movement of D. 960, which brings in several earlier themes and can sound a touch chaotic – but does not in this reading. The unexpected key choice for the slow movement – C-sharp minor for a sonata in B-flat major – also works well here, as Deveau ensures that the contrasting moods of first and second movement help, in effect, explain their keys. Deveau also pays close attention to the notation that the third movement is to be played con delicatezza, to very good effect. Schubert’s final sonatas exist on a plane of their own, one quite different from that on which Beethoven’s last sonatas reside. Deveau performs the Schubert works with care and with a clear understanding of their unique musical language, presenting them both as a culmination of Schubert’s writing for piano and as an entry point to the grander (and, for better or worse, more grandiose) Romantic-era sonatas that were still to come.

-- Infodad

Steinway & Sons Record Label has this month released David Deveau’s recording of Schubert’s last two piano sonatas, D 959 and D 960, from 1828, the year following the death of Beethoven. Along with the one that precedes them, are usually seen as a valedictory trilogy, though, in fact Schubert intended them as parts of a larger set. The loss of the earlier master had greatly affected Schubert; just a few months later he had completed only these three first essays for the set, when death cut his life short at 31 years. Schubert’s last year also saw the completion of the Mass in E-flat Major, the String Quintet in C Major, and many of the individual songs that posthumously became Schwanengesang.

Steinway has always had a legendary roster of artists but has only established its own recording label in 2010, carefully selecting newer rosters from various genres that feature its pianos in a variety of settings and partnering to create free play-lists with other streaming music services such as Archiv, Naxos, Spotify, and Apple. Deveau plays a Steinway Model D in the magnificent Shalin Liu Performance Center Hall, which he had guided through the planning and opening , and as Artistic Director of the internationally acclaimed Rockport Chamber Festival for decades.

As for the music itself, the music of Schubert’s final year holds an especial quality that has been characterized as intimate, spiritual, sometimes religious, thought of by some as a “thin place” or the veil between this world and the next, or as Charles Rosen described it – “a solitary landscape.” Deveau himself writes of the works on this recording “The entire range of human emotional experience seems contained in these two towering works.” He goes on to describe grandeur “like a great Alpine ascent” while at other times dwelling on the more introspective characteristics “by turns reflective and accepting, or alternating pathos with extreme emotional anguish or a period of cautious hopefulness” or “the promise of a restful, dreamy sleep.” In the brighter movements Deveau finds “more youthful vitality, humor, energy, and general high spirits.”

One could write pages upon pages about the key relationships within and among the sonatas, their symbolic significance, their recall, and reflection of other works, even of the works of other composers, yet the performer’s own words quoted above best express both the character of the music and his interpretation of it. The recording held me spellbound, the classical outlines of the outer movements delivered with clean precision, joie-de-vivre, and a sense of architecture that truly epitomized Schubert’s love of classic forms, spacious structures, and long lines. Contrasting that energy and excitement was the poetry and intimacy of the inner movements and the subtle qualities of the short forms that Schubert truly excelled in, the lieder and the lied-like qualities in character pieces such as the Impromptus and Moments Musicaux.

In sum, this is a recording worth hearing, and Steinway & Sons Record Label is worth exploring, so have at it.

-- Boston Musical Intelligencer

Schubert's last three piano sonatas, and indeed many of the works from the end of his life, are often said to be shaped by the composer's knowledge of his impending death and perhaps to have a spiritual quality associated with that knowledge. The idea is plausible enough, but the only thing missing in support of it is hard evidence. Schubert told friends he thought he might be dying, but he began to sketch a tenth symphony (one wonders what that might have sounded like!), and he may not have been planning on it. Pianist David Deveau writes in the notes to this 2022 Steinway & Sons release that "as I age, I find in these iconic pieces more youthful vitality, humor, energy, and general high spirits than I did as a young man." His readings of these sonatas reflect this, taking the music relatively quickly (his Piano Sonata in B flat major, D. 960, is several minutes faster than average), avoiding dreamy, Chopin-like textures in the slow movements, and adding some Beethovenian energy to the outer ones. Deveau loses the sense of reawakening that often comes with the Scherzo in the B flat sonata, but he gains a stronger sense of the large-scale harmonic architecture of the big outer movements, whose pathbreaking qualities can be fully appreciated here. A point in favor of Deveau's unorthodox reading is that the pianos of Schubert's time had a percussive quality that wouldn't easily have permitted the gently resonant slow movements that are the norm on modern instruments, but that is fully consistent with Deveau's playing here. In general, this is a fresh approach to the late Schubert sonatas, well supported by Steinway at the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts.

-- AllMusic Guide

Pianist David Deveau (b. 1953), a pupil of Russell Sherman, Beveridge Webster, and Veronika Jochum, has distinguished himself as a fulltime member of the MIT teaching staff from 1988–2020, having risen to senior lecturer, teaching countless numbers of keyboard and chamber music students. This album for Steinway & Sons (recorded October 11–12, 2021) of late Schubert sonatas, as performed on a Steinway Model D, offers these 1828 works in direct, linear, unmannered readings, poetic as well as technically accomplished.

What Deveau finds compelling in late Schubert resides in the composer’s sense of youthful vitality, the humor and high optimism of a genial spirit. The entire reading of the structurally cyclical A-Major Sonata moves with a directed energy and clarity in the long lines Deveau delivers with the security of vast experience. His rendition of the second movement, Andantino in F? Minor, acknowledges but does not dwell in its emotional sense of the abyss, especially in its explosively chromatic middle section in C? Minor that Rudolf Serkin executes with the fury of a Bach toccatas having gone rogue. The flowing triplets that constitute the Allegretto last movement emanate a sense of lyrical ebullience that Deveau calls “death-defying.” Deveau’s opening Molto moderato for the B? Sonata elicits none of the almost grueling slowness and solemnity that Sviatoslav Richter imposes upon this deep work, whose lament for loss and descent into D Minor ushers from Deveau rather a sense of expected rebirth.

If Deveau recalls any other interpretations of the D 960, it would be those of Artur Rubinstein and Lorin Hollander, who permitted the work to “play itself,” without recourse to dramatic mannerism. The heart of the composition, its Andante sostenuto in C? Minor, opens as a sad Lied that bursts forth in the manner of laudatory chorale. Even the last pages, with their allusions to the shades of the minor tonalities, yearn for sunshine. Deveau provides an elfin lightness to the ensuing Molto vivace con delicatezza, rife with carefully inflected accents, syncopated sforzandos. The last movement, Allegro ma non troppo, after a command to attention, proceeds as a gentle contest between B? Major and G Minor, with a sudden eruption in dark chords and counterpoint in F Minor, which Deveau delivers with a force that soon finds grounds for a sense of reconciliation. These are excellent, musical realizations of Schubert’s late sonatas; but with the number and breadth of competitive readings, I wonder how many auditors will seek out an eminently rational and freshly enthusiastic approach to works that allow more demonized visions.

-- Fanfare

"...very fine and deeply felt Schubert sonatas. Some things struck me with new force in Deveau's performance, like the Scherzo of the A major—more capricious and scherzando than I have ever heard it. And the storm in the slow movement was really tremendous. It brought me back to the first time I heard it with Serkin in Carnegie and was overwhelmed.

-- Richard Goode Read less