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Charles Timbrell
Fanfare, November 2011

This disc is my introduction to [Eldar Nebolsin’s] playing and I am favorably impressed.

…Nebolsin characterizes the themes beautifully, with the grander passages played boldly but never percussively and the lyrical ones displaying eloquence and a seamless legato. Textures are clear and perfectly voiced.

The “Wanderer” Fantasy was also one of Richter’s specialties, and again Nebolsin’s version is fully competitive. I especially like his tempo for the opening movement, which is not quite as fast we sometimes hear—it is played, as directed, “fast and with fire, but not too much,”…His tempo allows all themes to flow naturally from one to another…The second movement is full of lyricism, fine details, and high drama, while the third is rhetorical, big, and unforced. I highly recommend this disc and look forward to hearing more from this gifted pianist.

Alan Becker
American Record Guide, September 2011

It takes a few moments for the ear to adjust to the in-your-face, brittle, and strident sonics supplied by the Naxos engineers. Once acclimated, these are pleasant, straightforward Schubert performances. Nebolsin certainly has the technique and musicality not to be thwarted by any of the composer’s daunting challenges.

The Allegretto quasi andantino from D 537 is particularly felicitous, and the final Allegro vivace has sparkling articulation. The same can be said for D 664…the famous Wanderer Fantasy, long a favorite of pianists, is played with vigor and stunning control, especially in the more taxing passages. Nebolsin is able to move ahead without slowing down for the real challenges, especially in the concluding fugal Allegro…

Geoffrey Molyneux
MusicWeb International, July 2011

This recital begins with two of Schubert’s early piano sonatas composed in 1817 and 1819, and concludes with one of his greatest masterworks, the Fantasy in C major D760 known as the Wanderer. Eldar Nebolsin sets a powerful and tragic tone at the outset of the A minor sonata, with its rhythmically tight descending minor scale motif. Schubert’s expressive markings are meticulously observed; there is plenty of light and shade where needed, and Nebolsin produces some lovely tone in the more lyrical passages. In the second movement he makes a convincing contrast between the lyrical beauty of the right hand melody and the staccato quaver accompaniment. Nebolsin always varies the repeats in this variation form movement with subtle changes in rubato and dynamics. In the final third movement, with its dramatic opening, we return to more energetic music in which Nebolsin excels.

The Sonata in A major, D664, composed about two years later, is in a totally different mood. The gentle opening melody is appropriately played in a simple and unfussy way. Further on Nebolsin is well able to portray the more agitated and dramatic parts of the movement. Following the flying octaves in the development section, he makes a beautiful return to the work’s opening theme at the beginning of the recapitulation. The ensuing andante movement is sensitively played and in the final allegro Nebolsin makes convincing contrast between the virtuosic sections and the movement’s more lyrical moments.

The Wanderer Fantasy of 1822 is a work which, not only formally, but in pianistic terms too, looks forward to future developments in nineteenth century music, perhaps more so than any other. With its four joined sections and use of an all-pervading motif, it is the forerunner of the symphonic poem of Liszt, the ideé-fixe of Berlioz and the leitmotif of Wagner. The virtuosity required to play this work, including pounding octave passages, anticipates the pianistic terrors of Liszt’s writing for piano later in the century.

The piano is indeed made to sound like an orchestra, and the opening bars resonate with great power in Nebolsin’s hands. Maybe when this motif is repeated and developed from bar 15 where it is marked to be played very softly, a more subtle difference in mood and colour could have been forthcoming. Brendel…captures this change beautifully by playing the opening motif a fraction quicker and lighter than Nebolsin, so that his pianissimo together with a gentle slowing down, is more sensitive and telling. Pollini…is also more subtle here and in similar passages.

The important transition into the ensuing adagio section of the work is also subtly and movingly presented by Brendel. Nebolsin begins just a fraction too loudly compared with the final chords of the first section, making this sound too obviously like a new movement. However Nebolsin’s performance is superb, full of sad pathos where needed as well as glittering demisemiquavers and menacing tremolandi. The third and fourth sections are powerful, explosive and energetic where necessary, but perhaps a bit too much like Liszt for some tastes. Brendel is rather more poetic and imaginative in the cantabile melodic passages, with rubato that allows for more subtlety and a greater sense of spaciousness in the phrasing. Pollini also gives a truly great performance of this work.

Eldar Nebolsin gives first class performances of the Wanderer Fantasy and the two sonatas, and I would highly recommend this disc especially at budget price.

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, July 2011

Russian pianist Eldar Nebolsin gives highly nuanced and beautifully detailed accounts of three delightful works of Franz Schubert. The program includes two of his melodically richest Sonatas, Nos. 4 in A minor, D 537 and 13 in A Major, D 664 plus the remarkable “Wanderer” Fantasy in C Major, D 760. Nebolsin’s touch is light and poetic, allowing the delicate color of Schubert’s lyricism to come through in an unforced manner that serves the needs of the music very well indeed.

The A minor Sonata D 537, perhaps the earliest of Schubert’s completed sonatas, is in three movements. The opening is characterized by harp-like arpeggios and natural sounding echo effects in a higher register which come across beautifully here. The song-like slow movement, a happily inspired Allegretto, is so prodigal with its melody as to beget a lovely secondary theme related to it. The finale is equally inspired, ending abruptly in A Major with as decisive a key resolution as you will hear in music.

We are told Schubert wrote his A Major Sonata, D 664, during a vacation in Upper Austria, at a time when he was in love. That is easy enough to believe, from its profusion of melodic riches that seem to burst forth like fresh new leaves, the only disquieting note (and one that is soon dispelled) occasioned by some harmonic ambiguity in the Andante. Otherwise, assuming that art reflects the natural surroundings, we can take Schubert’s word that the summer of 1819 was “unimaginably lovely.”

The “Wanderer” Fantasy of 1822 is one of music’s wonders, not least for the way all the succeeding movements take their inspiration from Schubert’s song of that name that forms the basis for a set of swiftly flowing, increasingly complex variations that unfold with the greatest  naturalness in the slow movement. From the tempestuous Allegro con fuoco opening movement through the warm, gracious Adagio to the frenetic but mercurial Presto and the virtuosic Allegro finale, the music benefits from Nebolsin’s approach that strikes a nice balance between tension and relaxation.

Jeremy Nicholas
Classic FM, July 2011

Nebolsin’s grasp of structure, simplicity of approach with clear, natural phrasing, and the song-like purity of the recorded sound make this a very special Schubert disc…Nebolsin’s discs of Rachmaninov and Liszt have rightly won universal high praise. I hope this does the same.

Blair Sanderson, June 2011

Since Franz Schubert’s Fantasy in C major, D. 760, “Wandererfantasie,” is essentially a sonata in its four-movement form, and has a duration comparable to his piano sonatas, it makes sense for Eldar Nebolsin to program it with two works in that genre, the Sonata No. 4 in A minor, D. 537, and the Sonata No. 13 in A major, D. 664. Yet “Wandererfantasie” is such an imposing work of formal, technical, and expressive complexity and difficulty, it should be regarded as the weightiest of the three pieces here; inevitably, the two sonatas will feel a little like preludes, as if they were chosen specifically to foreshadow or prepare for it. That’s not too far-fetched, if one listens for ideas that resemble the rhythmic and melodic patterns that emerge in “Wandererfantasie.” Note especially the hammered chords in the first movement of the Sonata No. 4, which seem at the outset to anticipate the main theme of the later work, or the song-like elements in both sonatas that point up the use of the song “Der Wanderer” in the Fantasy. Nebolsin surely understands Schubert, right down to the smallest details, so his selections, whether arrived at intuitively or by analysis, are appropriate, and his performances give the whole album a coherence and unity that seem instructive. Schubert’s creative process may be difficult for lesser mortals to comprehend, but Nebolsin’s cogent interpretations and masterful execution fully convey Schubert’s music with clarity of purpose and emotional power. Naxos provides excellent audio reproduction.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2011

Listening to Eldar Nebolsin’s outgoing account of the Wanderer Fantasy once again leaves one marvelling at the genius of Schubert in his brief life of 31 years. His sonatas had captured so many moods, but he had kept them within the conventions of a three or four movement format. Then at the age of twenty-five he kicked over musical formalities in a remarkable score that linked all four movements into one long and free-flowing score to form the Fantasy in C major. Yet the much earlier Fourth Sonata, when Schubert was only twenty, shows his imaginative mind, particularly when heard in Nebolsin’s purposeful approach to the opening allegro and vivacious finale. I also love the walking gait he employs in the central allegretto that brings love and affection to the performance. Probably just two years had elapsed by the time we reach the Thirteenth sonata published posthumously in 1829. It is full of song-like lyricism, Nebolsin introducing the feel of a dialogue in his unhurried opening allegro. By turn he brings greater sadness to the andante than is usual, before we return to the dialogue of pleasure and drama in the finale, Nebolsin’s nimble figures dancing around the keyboard with enviable clarity. Then to an account of the Wanderer that stands with the very finest in an over-subscribed CD catalogue. It sparkles with technical brilliance, and shares with Schubert the new world in which he was entering. Again I find dialogue between a powerful and demonstrative voice answered by a gentle and mediating character, the two eventually giving way to solemnity. Another change of tempo serves as a scherzo before the final fugue, Nebolsin pointing to the music’s similarity with Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. One of the best Schubert sonata discs I have encountered in excellent sound.

Greg La Traille
ArkivMusic, May 2011

I have heard many performances of these two very appealing Schubert sonatas and the Wanderer Fantasy by a variety if pianists in live concert and recordings. These performances on Naxos by the Uzbek-born pianist Eldar Nebolsin might very well be my favorites. The playing is insightful, poetic and introspective. Right in tune with the Schubertian keyboard style. The sound quality and tone color of Nebolsin’s piano is just beautiful. Nebolsin’s keyboard technique also serves the music with a particularly fine sense of phrasing. In fact one does not feel that this pianist is interpreting the music for you but rather allowing the music to come forth. One of the few other pianists from history that I have heard only on record accomplish this naturalness is Ignaz Friedman.

Nebolsin’s playing of the stunning Wanderer Fantasy, Schubert’s most fiery piece, is more toward the grand and regal side than the aggressive, forward rolling side. I appreciate the piece either way and Nebolsin makes a convincing case for a more cosmic approach that allows for lyricism as well as lightning bolts.

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