SCHUBERT RECORDINGS - VOLUME I
JOSHUA PIERCE, piano
"Joshua Pierce is a talented pianist... [he] is a knowing guide to the B-flat major sonata …Pierce’s approach is rhetorical, constantly questioning and probing…He finds power and lyricism side by side in a fluent reading of the andante … The scherzo is bright and breezy … The finale makes a strong impression … Pierce’s skill and polish are never in doubt ... the rare and diminutive Allegretto in C minor is a welcome inclusion and is played contemplatively by Pierce …There is a deliberate confidence to Pierce’s performances of the Moments Musicaux proper, with pathos beneath the beauty and dark colours very much to the fore … this is impressive Schubert playing, with judicious pedalling, vivid contrast in tone colour, finely tuned dynamic control and a natural rubato …The recorded sound is sympathetically warm … this is a disc worth hearing, and taster of what may prove to be a valuable Schubert series."
MusicWeb International - January 2008
"[Joshua Pierce] applied his mind and heart to every phrase. Nothing is straightforward; everything is interpreted, and there's a reason behind every gesture. It is nice to hear such thoughtful playing..[Pierce's Schubert] sounds like Schubert, not Beethoven. It is still sweet-natured and easy-going rather than temperamental. Tempos are not ponderous...in the Moments Musicaux Mr. Pierce phrases things beautifully, and there's even some atmosphere - some poetry to add to the meaningful prose..."
American Record Guide - November / December 2007
"Pierce's interpretations of Schubert's B-flat Sonata and Moments Musicaux convey undeniable enthusiasm, energy and sincerity...[a] gifted, charismatic pianist...Pierce's driving left hand generates gripping momentum in [Moment] No.5. Note, too, the eloquent lyricism he brings to No.4's Trio and the second and sixth pieces...Simplicity and beauty also distinguish his well proportioned account of the Allegretto. MSR's excellent engineering accurately mirrors the dulcet, singing sonority that Pierce carries with him from concert to concert and piano to piano"
Gramophone - October 2007
"After his terrific set of Beethoven concertos, it's no surprise that Joshua Pierce offers a distinguished Schubert disc. The B-flat Sonata is lyrically played, but with great rhythmic acuity. Pierce takes chances in response to the dramatic possibilities of Schubert's phrases, all of which work effortlessly. The disc includes the Allegretto, D.915 and an impressive performance of the six Moment Musicaux."
Turok's Choice - October 2007
"One of the greatest challenges any pianist can take on is that of presenting the music of Schubert in a way that gets at the emotional depth beneath his simplicity, without resorting to exaggerated romantic bombast. Joshua Pierce does so as well as any on this fine program... Brilliant."
CD HotList - September 2007
"Two generations ago this all-Schubert recital would have been one by Artur Schnabel. Joshua Pierce...plays the posthumous B-flat Sonata in a literalist, non-pedantic style, with a fine sense of the dramatic rumbles and pauses that afflict Schubert's pointed thoughts on emotional loss. If Pierce's playing reminds me of anyone else's, it is Claude Frank... Pierce handles the agitated triplets and harmonic shifts in the first movement smoothly and on a large scale... Pierce evokes a high, tense singing-line, and he projects the intricate left-hand bass harmonies without forcing them... Pierce [is] attentive to the enharmonic moves Schubert likes to make to change tone colors. The A Major spun-out melody by Pierce quite sings a song worthy of Keats...When Pierce wants the golden hammer, he uses it, only to transform the percussion into silver bells... Pregnant pauses, an outburst of passion, and attention to harmonic colors [in Moments Musicaux] set Pierce's rendition along some fine realizations, not the least of which is that by Rudolf Serkin on CBS."
Audiophile Audition - July 2007
"Pierce makes the most of [Schubert's pauses], leapfrogging the Romantic era and making Schubert into something of a troubled modern. The tension in the first movement's opening melody precedes the ominous left-hand trill at the end of the first phrase; Pierce takes a good deal of time in the melody itself, and treats it not as a moment of repose but as a source of momentum. The first movement as a whole is fraught with forward motion interrupted by passages of near stasis... the 6 Moments Musicaux are fresh and arresting as Pierce lingers over their mood shifts...[The performance is] challenging, occasionally puzzling, but never dull."
All Music Guide - June 2007
"Pianist Joshua Pierce gets off to a great start in Vol. 1 of what
promises to be a series of Franz Schubert’s piano music with the Sonata in B-flat Major, D.960 and the Moments Musicaux, D.780, with the sprightly Allegretto, D.915 as attractive filler. He approaches the opening movement of the sonata in a straightforward manner, preferring to capture the abundant beauties /en passant/, without too much fuss over the pauses that follow the remarkable trill in the bass that we hear from time to time, as if the piano were compelled to testify under oath to memories too painful to recall. In this movement, the melodies are deceptively simple, at first just a cluster of notes around the home key. But what Schubert does in developing them is something else. How often merely a slight change in meter or a striking key shift, often without modulation, will change the entire mood of a passage! There is a fatalistic current underlying the most innocent melodies – my pet name for it is “the Schubert Undertow” – and Pierce is sensitive to its presence. The slow movement is a solemn prayer – with an anguished moment of reflection before the final solace. The Scherzo is a quicksilver Allegro Vivace with a curious little humpbacked dance as trio. The finale is fast and furious, belying the qualifying phrase “ma non troppo” which refers basically to the tentative, hesitant nature of the opening figure. The high dynamic level selected by Joshua Pierce for this movement and the steady tempos he employs throughout the work are in marked contrast to the more introspective approach used by Andrew Rangell on Bridge 9153, which I previously reviewed in this column, and, at 40:01 his timing for the sonata is seven minutes quicker. Both approaches, I should add, are valid. In Schubert’s Moments Musicaux, a landmark in the Romantic genre of poetic character pieces, striking changes in mood and mode prevail in four of the six pieces. All these pieces have distinct characters, from Moment #1 which unfolds like a gradually evolving walk through nature to the solemnity of Moment #6, a nocturne in all but name, but one in which the prevailing mood has more to do with midnight than the charm of twilight. Moment #2, leisurely and introspective, has an anguished outcry in the reprise of the B section, while the overall ferocity of Moment #5 does not abate until the very end. Moment #4 is harmonically subtle and dancelike. Moment #3, often played as an encore, has a lot in common with Schubert’s “Hungarian Melody.” A winsome collection, these “Musical Moments”!
Atlanta Audio Society, March 2007
Of all the major European composers in the classic and romantic tradition, none has been viewed through glasses more rose-tinted than Franz Schubert. Schubert! That sweet, innocent creature out of the operetta Blossom Time, with his curly hair, school-teacherish countenance and faint smile, doomed to die young, symphonies unfinished, prodigious talent unrecognized.
Not. According to Elizabeth Norman McKay’s authoritative Oxford biography of 1996, the real Schubert story is one of "alcohol abuse, manic depression, syphilis and hypersexual activity." Even more extraordinary narratives have been proposed by musicologists as notable as Maynard Solomon and Susan McLary and, although some of the more outlandish accounts and interpretations of his life and music have been challenged, there is little doubt any longer that Schubert lived fast and died young. He never was able to keep a job and spent most of his time with a crowd of high lifers and drop-outs of dubious reputation. Some of them were themselves artists, but others were suspicious characters, under surveillance by the police. One of them was arrested in Schubert’s presence and the composer himself was actually threatened with prosecution. For what? Were he and his friends subversives trying to undermine the Austrian Empire? Were they freedom fighters? Terrorists? To what degree were bohemianism and secret sexual "deviation" linked with underground political movements in what was essentially a brutal police state? Historians and musicologists argue about what was actually going on and how deeply Schubert was involved. In any case, this was certainly not Blossom Time.
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Joshua Pierce adds his interpretations of Schubert to his extraordinarily vast collection of classical, romantic and modern pianism. Pierce is one of the most versatile virtuosi of our time. His series of recent recordings of major works for piano and orchestra from the great composers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to the complete Beethoven Concertos to the Schubert solo keyboard masterpieces recorded here to the romantic world of Liszt and Brahms form an extraordinary testimony to the mastery and enormous range of an artist who is also known for his performances of twentieth century repertoire from Gershwin to Cage and beyond. This huge range and varied repertoire – encompassing the standard repertoire, contemporary work and rediscovered masterpieces of the past – are unique among contemporary pianists .
For further information on Mr. Pierce, visit www.jamesarts.com/pierce.
Sonata in B-flat major, Op. posth, D.960
Allegretto in C minor, D.915
Six Moments Musicaux, Op.94, D.780