Stephen Hough plays a C Bechstein Model D for this Schubert recording, and although the booklet notes don’t reveal the reasons for his choice, there are clues in the sound. There’s an intimacy to the instrument that suits the introspection of the G major Sonata, D894 and its upper register has a lovely ringing quality for the cantabile Sonata in A major, D664. In short, Hough’s decision works well. And if he doesn’t go as far as Andras Schiff, who recorded Schubert on a mellow fortepiano, Hough’s light pedalling and nimble, clean articulation evokes the spirit of an earlier world of keyboards.
In Hough’s hands, this is Schubert for the salon rather than the concert hall, superbly captured by Hyperion. The elegant restraint of Hough’s playing highlights the Classical lines of Schubert’s music. The G major Sonata, as Misha Donat’s excellent booklet notes point out, is an intimate work, in which each movement ends quietly. Hough captures that subdued mood, with lilting grace in the Menuetto and soft insistence in the finale. Yet for all this performance’s gentle poise, I feel there’s a rapt quality that is missing. I was left uncertain if this is truly the music of Hough’s heart.
That, however, may be a purely subjective reaction, because objectively Hough offers musicianship of the finest order. And after the fleeting Sonata in E minor fragment, Hough makes the Sonata in A major, D664 all beguiling simplicity. He sings in the Allegro moderato, muses in the Andante and dances in the finale. It’s a graceful delight.