Alexei Grynyuk at the Wigmore Hall – Schubert’s last breath


Alexei Grynyuk, Wigmore Hall, 16 April 2015.

The last of Schubert’s 21 published piano sonatas is a remarkable piece of music, as in it we encounter one of those truly rare instances where time really does seem to stand still.
Alexei Grynyuk, completing a fine season of lunchtime recitals at the Wigmore Hall under the sponsorship of Lisa Peacock, gave the piece an eloquent and moving account, maintaining remarkable feats of concentration over the near-50 minutes in which Schubert’s last inspiration unfurled.

The opening movement seemed to go on for ever – but not in a bad way! From the off it was clear Grynyuk was going to let this music breathe, refusing to hurry in much the same way the great Sviatoslav Richter used to work with the sonata. Because of that the first movement alone clocked in at 28 minutes, but the disquiet it brought whenever the left hand was rumbling low in the piano register was palpable.

Eventually there was a form of resolution, but the questioning nature of the music returned in the slow movement and its less than comfortable modulations. As the sonata progressed so did Schubert’s willingness to cast his demons aside, and because of this Grynyuk ensured the third movement scherzo became ever sunnier as it progressed. Meanwhile the finale, despite some strife in its minor key exertions, ultimately strove for positivity.

This was a magnificent and clearly thought through performance, one where Alexei Grynyuk was ready to stand back, remove any showiness from his interpretation, and let Schubert’s music do the talking. Similar praise could be levelled at his performance of the Three Movements from Petrushka, arranged by Stravinsky from the ballet. A lot of pianists show off here but Grynyuk was careful to characterise, to bring forward the abundant selection of tunes and – crucially – not to play too loudly. His approach worked wonderfully well.

A Spotify playlist containing the works in concert can be accessed below. As Alexei Grynyuk has not yet recorded these works – though I understand this performance of the Schubert was recorded for future release – I have chosen versions by Maurizio Pollini:

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