Piano Sonata No. 14 in A minor ("Grande Sonate"), D. 784 (Op. posth. 143)
Piano Sonata No. 13 in A major, D. 664 (Op. 120)
Piano Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 21, M25
French pianist Lucas Debargue began studying the piano seriously only as an adult, and he has made news with daring feats like appearing with an orchestra for the first time in the finals of the Tchaikovsky Competition. He's not so much an enfant terrible as a young pianist with an instinct for running counter to trends in a productive way, and those watching him may find this Sony Classical release a good place to start. Here he offers unusual interpretations of fairly common sonatas by Schubert, and an unusual work, the "Piano Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 21," of Karol Szymanowski. The latter work was premiered by Arthur Rubinstein in 1911 and was played from time to time by Russian and Eastern European virtuosos, but nowadays is an uncommon item. It has been compared with Scriabin's larger works, but that makes it sound more experimental than it is. Rather, it has the flavor of an attempt to impose the spirit of Beethoven in the early 20th century. It's not so much Romantic or neo-Romantic as simply monumental. It's difficult -- think "Hammerklavier" difficult -- but more than that it's a giant rush of power, and for a time it put players and audiences off. Debargue surmounts the difficulties with real brilliance, and the music, if you let it, mounts in excitement. The pair of middle-period Schubert sonatas are taken out of the chamber dimensions of most of Schubert's music and put into the world of the monumental final three, with big forward momentum and plenty of playful, confident manipulation of the thematic material. Sample the opening movement of "Piano Sonata in A minor, D. 784," for the effect, which will delight some and seem perverse to others. At the very least, Debargue is continuing to shake up both repertory and established traditions of interpretations; that he's having commercial success with this is all to the good.