This is one of the most convincing accounts of what, I consider, no doubt recklessly, the greatest piano sonata ever composed. Marc-André Hamelin’s tentativeness in the huge opening movement (with the crucial repeat observed, thank heavens) is exquisitely poetic. It is Schubert’s emotional equivalent to Mozart’s “smiling through tears” in his final works. The soft, deep trill on a dissonant G Flat that threatens the celestial calm of the opening, always sounds far more sinister than the similar effect at the end of the slow movement of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique.

Similarly, in the melancholy barcarolle of the second movement, Hamelin’s ambivalence is sublime. The final two movements create a more challenging transition into another world, with the skittish Scherzo and the seemingly carefree Rondo. Hamelin manages every nuance beautifully, even sublimely.

The Four Impromptus, D935 further reveal Hamelin’s insights with Schubert in the seamless way he handles the alternating robust and mesmerising passages of the First, conjuring the almost ghost-like dances of the Second, the variations of the Third, including one used in the Rosamunde incidental music and the A Minor String Quartet, and the mercurial Magyar qualities of the finale. Hyperion has given Hamelin a wonderfully warm acoustic. This is one of the most treasurable Schubert piano albums I’ve heard in a long time.


Composer: Schubert
Composition: Piano Sonata No 20 in B Flat, Impromptus
Performer: Marc-André Hamelin p
Catalogue Number: Hyperion CDA68213