Classical Music Guide - Monday, July 25, 2016 - Written by Donald Isler

Jeffrey Swann

Schubert: Sonata in G Major, D. 894
Schumann: Kreisleriana, Op. 16

Jeffrey Swann is a very likable musical personality, as well as a very fine pianist. He always makes some brief and insightful comments on the music he’s about to play. This program consisted of a major work each by Schubert and Schumann. Mr. Swann said that, to 19th Century thinking, genius was related to suffering. Schubert, of course, lived only 31 years and was incredibly productive to the end. Mr. Swann said he considered Schubert’s victory over suffering that he “captured time,” ie. stalled its motion forward. And there were beautiful moments, especially in the first movement of the Sonata, where one could see Mr. Swann’s point.

The G Major is one of the very big Schubert sonatas, “sprawling” as David Dubal described it in his pre-concert lecture. Mr. Dubal also mentioned that he once asked Alfred Brendel if he thought some of the Schubert sonatas were too long. “Oh no!” said Mr. Brendel. “They are not long enough!”

The first movement, marked Molto moderato e cantabile, is a very atypical beginning for a sonata, but this is Schubert, who did not necessarily follow the traditional “rules” of sonata writing. What one really needs to do is gently “plant” the first chord, then set a spell with the first two measures, and then sustain it for a very long time (especially as Mr. Swann, unlike many other pianists, took the repeat!). He began the movement at what seemed a worrying slow tempo, but with great sensitivity, charm and an understanding of interesting modulations, made it work. The second movement was actually a bit faster than the first (the opposite of the usual relationship of the first two movements of a sonata) but was beautiful, played with warmth and love. The outbursts in the B Minor section were dramatic, and the coda was eloquent.

The third movement was brisk and jocular, and Mr. Swann brought out the quiet magic of the B Major trio section. Some noteworthy features of the performance of the last movement, which started at a leisurely pace, included the increased intensity when the dance step in C Major enters, the joyous moving up to E-Flat Major when it later returns, the “seriousness” of the C Minor section, which resolves to C Major, the thrilling move into B-Flat Major at the beginning of the coda, and the amazing, and highly unusual ending. Mr. Swann’s performance of this sonata was an “experience.”

Kreisleriana is a dark and bizarre work, often alternating between frenzied movements in G Minor and slow movements in B-Flat Major. Mr. Swann plunged headlong into the first movement, then reveled in the loveliness of the middle section in B-Flat Major. The second movement was lyrical, but quirky. The turbulent third movement was followed by the dreamy fourth. After the troubled fifth movement came the slow, and deeply introspective sixth. Changing the pattern, the seventh movement appeared to be in C Minor, but ended at a slow speed in E-Flat Major after a bracing fugato section in C Minor, which Mr. Swann played as fast as possible. Finally there was the eighth movement, which creeps in mysteriously in G Minor, then passes through some odd transformations, made more so by syncopations, and by a passionate D Minor section, before returning to G Minor and quietly, as Mr. Swann said, “dancing off into madness.” An impressive interpretation!

Mr. Swann played one encore, the A-Flat Waltz of Chopin, Op. 42, which was fast and frisky, yet sensitive, and ended with bravura.

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