Schubert: Sonata in B flat Major D 960; Drei Klavierstucke D 946 / Ayako Ito

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Ayako Ito: “Nowadays, in concert halls, we generally see a single type of piano that normally has 88 keys and is normally black. Things were...

Ayako Ito: “Nowadays, in concert halls, we generally see a single type of piano that normally has 88 keys and is normally black. Things were quite different in the Vienna of the 19th century: the piano had fewer keys, was decorated with wooden inlay and had no steel subframe. All this made them sound quite different. Conrad Graf was one of the finest builders of pianofortes in Vienna in the period from 1820-40. And Franz Schubert was living in the same city.We can revive a rich, warm, singing, powerful and even orchestral sound on Graf's pianofortes. His pianos feature the Viennese action or “Prellzungenmechanik”, with their hammers built up from many layers of leather. These hammers allow the performer to impart subtle nuances and dynamic contrasts. Of course, the pianos are straight-strung. The player can alter the tonal color using four pedals, with one of the pedals specific to the pianoforte being the moderator. When the moderator pedal is depressed, a strip of cashmere slips between the hammers and the strings. Christopher Clarke (1947) built the instrument used for this recording in 2000, as a facsimile of Conrad Graf's pianoforte no. 995. Clarke's pianoforte always inspires me. I find it a miraculous instrument. The utter precision of the mechanism lets us explore the finest gradations and introduce the most subtle nuances – singing, speaking or whispering. It is a mechanism that demands a high technical mastery from the player.”


Ayako Ito approaches the masterpiece D960 with romantic fervour, trusting the less powerful, more refined, tone of the fortepiano will provide authentic period sound compensation. Her opening theme isn’t as soft as pp, but smoother and more swinging than the Molto moderato marking suggests. The deep bass disturbance at the end of its first full statement (tr. 1, 0:24) is more threatening than the pp marking. The clarity of Ito’s running quavers in the ‘tenor’ part enhances the tense atmosphere, yet the third part of the first theme (0:58), more pleading, moves through quiet insistence. The second theme (2:06), is in the tenor part against the ‘soprano’ descant, with Ito’s sensitive balance the latter’s creaminess like a loving companion. The dancing three-quaver groups in triplets which eventually result skip buoyantly. The phrase of resolution terminating these (4:04) deserves more breadth, but the extraordinary exposition ‘first time’ codetta (4:55), like hobgoblins arriving, Ito makes boldly gawky.

In the development (10:19) Ito prefers cool examination rather than shock, its ff climax of the dancing triplets underplayed (11:27). But she builds the tension and dynamic well to the fruition of the third theme (12:18), the most tender and memorable. Ito makes the second theme recap (16:08) more delicate and sensitive. Her coda (19:22) is tranquil yet flowing.

The opening of the slow movement juxtaposes a left-hand four note rising figure and melancholic right-hand melody. Ito makes the first and final notes of the left-hand figure very clear as bell peals three octaves apart. In this C sharp minor funeral Ito is sorrowful yet smoothly dignified, her equipoise between the hands arguably overmuch easing the pain of bereavement. The central section in A major (tr. 2, 2:59) remembers the loved one and clarifies a relationship, its theme beginning in rich ‘baritone’ register, the soprano repeat (3:26) adding varied semiquaver runs. From Ito it feels like both parties confirm shared sadness. At the return to the opening (5:36) the left-hand has an additional four-note motif, three semiquavers and a quaver, for me like funeral carriage wheels biting into the road. Ito makes it a clear, inescapable presence. The decrescendo after the melody’s climax finds the left-hand unheeding the pathos of the melody briefly in C major (6:30); yet after the next melodic climax comes a blessing, the coda (7:55) easing calmly into C sharp major.

Ito’s finale’s rondo theme begins a bit stiff in marking out the rhythm; her second strain (tr. 4, 0:21) is catchier and first episode (1:24) blends calm tone with confident movement, the relationship between melody and accompaniment grippingly maintained, until a sudden silence and ff shock (2:36) of catastrophe, especially when the melodic outburst goes into descant register.

Best of D946Three piano pieces, is for me the first. It’s in E flat minor with urgent first strain to its right-hand cyclical theme. The second (tr. 5, 0:15) adds more rhythm, then a melody picked out from the first notes of the three-quaver groupings (0:19). The return of the first strain is in E flat major (0:50), the touch more rhythm a vehicle for Ito screaming a scrunched appoggiatura at the fz climax. The central section second theme (2:54) is in B major, festooned with turns and phrase-ending arpeggios, Ito revealing it as leisurely and affectionate. Its second strain (4:13) adds glissando-like up-and-down [32nd notes], the return of the first more luxurious in chording and close more rhetorical. To this vibrant, varied piece Ito brings considerable gusto.

--MusicWeb International (Michael Greenhalgh)

Product Description:

  • Release Date: April 08, 2022

  • UPC: 608917289220

  • Catalog Number: CC 72892

  • Label: Challenge

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: Romantic

  • Composer: Franz Schubert

  • Performer: Ayako Ito