Review: Elisabeth Leonskaja, Schubert Piano Sonatas, Snape Proms, August 10

Elisabeth Leonskaja performing at Snape Proms. Photo: Julia Wesely

Elisabeth Leonskaja performing at Snape Proms. Photo: Julia Wesely - Credit: Archant

Elisabeth Leonskaja first played in public at the age of eleven and was a protégé of the Russian pianist Svjatoslav Richter.

Elisabeth Leonskaja performing at Snape Proms. Photo: Marco Borg

Elisabeth Leonskaja performing at Snape Proms. Photo: Marco Borg - Credit: Archant

Elisabeth Leonskaja first played in public at the age of eleven and was a protégé of the Russian pianist Svjatoslav Richter. Her all-Schubert recital consisted of three sonatas including the rarely heard F minor, D 625, to open the programme.

This relatively early work from 1818 was not written as a complete sonata and there are a few awkward corners but also some original, indeed striking, features. The first movement is a fairly serious F minor and the second movement scherzo bursts in with a totally unexpected E major that is quite disconcerting. The performance took a while to settle but the pianist’s secure technique and authoritative delivery made a convincing case for the music.

Schubert’s two-movement Sonata in C, D840, is a striking work, bold and symphonic in conception and often in actual sound. It needs a sense of scale and structure along with strong fingers; qualities that Leonskaja has in full measure. The epic atmosphere was established in the opening bars and the bass line was strongly supportive of the more decorative writing above. In the more improvisatory slow movement the mercurial changes of mood and tempi were sharply focussed and crisply delivered.

The second half comprised the A minor sonata, D 845, the first of only three to be published in the composer’s lifetime and one that he rated highly. The first movement has echoes of Beethoven and Leonskaja gave a taut reading with a well-controlled crescendo leading to a stormy outburst at the first double forte. The move to the lyrical second subject was smoothly effected and the development full of suspense. The slow movement was very well done, the unaffected lyricism of the opening seamlessly gaining momentum and culminating in a brilliant display of running triplets and demisemiquavers. Even if the finale has moments of note spinning there was always the pianist’s drive and virtuosity to hold the attention.


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Elizabeth Leonskaja needed no persuasion to launch into her first encore – a dynamic rendering of the first of the three pieces D946, followed by the famous G flat impromptu. The applause was both enthusiastic and deserved.

Gareth Jones

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