Author Topic: Schubertiade!  (Read 21179 times)

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Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #100 on: May 04, 2019, 06:11:55 AM »



From the Anne Queffélec big box, two discs' worth of four hands music with Imogen Cooper lending a hand.  Well, two in this instance.  The twofer starts with the F minor Fantasia, D940.  Queffélec and Cooper play the piece smartly.  With a heavy emphasis on both melody and clarity, the slightly small-scaled conception cruises along.  While small-scaled may seem something of a negative description, it is not meant to be, for so in tune with each other are the two pianists, that some of the highlights occur when they delve into the quieter sections.  The recurring main theme is likewise well handled, and the Scherzo is spritely.  Nice.  The Allegro, D947 is similarly scaled, but offers more contrast.  The duo belt out the opening material in nicely stormy fashion, but back off to a very dreamy, at times Beethoven-y second theme.  There's also some plain old spunky playing interspersed with the stormier music.  The Six Polonaises, D824, all have a nice combination of melodic loveliness and rhythmic verve, with the third especially nice.  The Variations on an Original Theme, D813 is appealing and somewhat thick of texture.  An original theme it may be, but Beethoven's 7th makes an appearance in the fifth variation. 

The second disc opens with the Grand Duo, D812.  The mammoth scale of the piece and the sometimes heavy going mean that I rarely listen to this work.  While Queffélec and Cooper dispense with some of the heaviness, they do not make me think that the piece couldn't use some trimming.  That written, they do manage to make the piece seem to go by a bit quicker than normal.  While not actually an unscored symphony, the piece certainly has gestures not always found in keyboard works, and the duo are able to bring out multiple voices at once, keeping multiple lines going in the Allegro moderato.  The Andante offers more chances for Schubertian lyricism, but the proto-Lisztian scale prevents that from happening.  Having four hands rather than two makes the Scherzo sound most enjoyable, in what sounds like a cousin to the String Quintet.  While everything to this point sounds fine, it's the Finale where the duo, and the music, come alive, with more drive and energy and fun.  This work will never be a favorite for me, but Queffélec and Cooper do fine work.  Things get back to more standard Schubertian goodness in the following Rondo D951, with weight married to lyricism in perfect proportion, and small hints of Beethoven influence weaved in nicely.  The Three Marches militaires, D733 come off well, all vibrant energy and march-like rhythm.  Slight but fun.  Fortunately, things conclude with the Andantino and Variations D823.  Short and lovely, tuneful and dark-ish, this new to me work really hits the spot.  This is some serious Schubert.  I think it only makes sense to try another version.  I mean, there is that newest reissue of Tal & Groethuysen covering all of Schubert's four hand works.  Hmm.  Anyway, these two discs offer a delightful, meaty chunk of music in the middle of the Queffélec big box.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #101 on: May 11, 2019, 03:08:42 AM »



I've finally found HIP Schubert to live with.  András Schiff's first ECM Schubert twofer offered the best HIP Schubert I'd heard.  This twofer continues offers more of the same.  Indeed, it starts off relatively stronger with what must surely count as one of the greatest recordings of the D899 Impromptus I've yet heard.  It may well be the best.  And it all comes down to the instrument.  In terms of tempo, rubato, agogics, etc, Schiff doesn't do anything outlandish.  What he does is offer a very highly refined take on the pieces, and he displays a satisfyingly wide dynamic range.  But it is the decay characteristics of the instrument that really makes the piece.  The playing is often as lyrical as all get out, but the quick decay, and the ability to play even softer than on a modern grand bring the pieces into intimate focus.  One listens to the first piece and thinks it can't get any better, and then one hears the opening scales of the second, and one understands it can.  And the more primitive mechanism allows Schiff to cruise along, playing at steady volume, and then drop everything all at once.  It's a little detail, but a massive one at the same time.  Schiff's older fingers betray no sign of decrepitude, either, as he plays with lightness and clarity.   The third piece is simply sublime, with the quick decay not detracting an iota from the right hand playing, and lending an incisiveness to the left hand playing that typically comes with overpowering volume, but not here.  The tone of the lower registers is novel, and more diverse than a Steinway.  Once doesn't miss the added power here.  Nor does one miss it in the concluding Allegretto, which is perfectly scaled for a small venue, and offers wide ranging dynamics, in a micro-sense, that generates a sense of theater.  This is standard-setting stuff.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the D958 sonata that follows doesn't reach the same heights.  Do not take that to mean that Schiff whiffs, because rather than setting a standard, he merely matches a world-class one.  Schiff again demonstrates than when he is so inclined, he can make his instrument produce satisfying volume levels as the Allegro opens with a suitably powerful sound, and then Schiff plays the movement with ample drive and intensity.  The quick decays makes the playing sound even faster, and the wide tonal variation adds color that modern instruments don't.  As the movement reaches the middle, Schiff again delivers some truly ear-opening playing, again centered around the left hand playing, but he also creates an austere yet melodic sound with his right hand playing.  The Adagio, played at a tempo that allows for not a little tension to remain, is also characterized by nearly volcanic, or as volcanic as a fortepiano cane play, climaxes.  Schiff keeps the melodies flowing when he should, but the interpretation is elevated from his accomplished modern grand reading.  The Menuetto is fairly stormy in the outer sections, but lighter in the middle, and the Allegro ratchets up the tension and intensity.  Schiff pushes forward with a relentlessness that is masked only slightly by the instrument.  Schiff also drops in some upper register notes that are almost ridiculously soft in the midst of the turmoil, and they remain perfectly audible.  Nice.  Disc one of the twofer sets a real high bar, no doubt. 

Disc two fortunately sounds just as swell.  The Drei Klavierstücke D946 starts things off.  Schiff opts for a perfectly sensible overall tempo, neither overly rushed or sluggishly slow, in the outer sections.  He does opt for an ever so slightly fast approach in the slower music, but only when playing notes, because he makes expert use of some sustains and all pauses.  Again, he uses the decay characteristics of his instruments most effectively.  And those right hand runs!  They are almost as ear-opening as the playing in D899.  That would have been good enough, but in the Allegretto, that almost preposterously fine micro-dynamic gradation that first popped up in D899 reappears right at the outset.  Schiff also deploys the various mechanisms of his instrument to good effect, doing the full keyboard dynamic shift, and if the playing doesn't assume the depths that some other pianists strive for and obtain (basically, Jean-Rodolphe Kars or Kun Woo Paik), the result sounds satisfactorily probing, especially for an intimate public setting.  (This is true Schubertiade playing.)  Schiff opens the concluding Allegro in somewhat stilted, stiff fashion, obviously on purpose, and somehow he makes it incredibly effective.  Part of the success is due to the fact that the piece ends up accelerating, with the notes flowing more as expected.  Knowing he has a winning approach, Schiff does the same thing again. 

D959 wraps things up.  Schiff works his magic again.  The Allegro starts off strong enough, but it only really packs a wallop after building up steam.  The almost improperly clear playing, with great tonal and dynamic differentiation in the accompaniment, really bring out the different voices and lend intellectualized drama to the playing.  And again, the quick decays render some of the melodies uncommonly distinctive.  Portions of the development are tastily testy, more than one might hope going in.  Schiff then demonstrates that his instrument can do violent and stormy in the middle section of the Andantino, and that purposely slow, chunky approach starts off the Scherzo.  (I guess one could call it a mannerism the second time around.)  That stupid-good right hand playing all reappears.  As beautiful as a modern grand sounds, it can sound cumbersome compared to what gets conjured here. The Rondo takes on a comparatively relaxed feel, and more overtly lyrical sound, in the outer sections, and gentler and sweeter in the middle section, as if a struggle of some sort has ended.  And one gets to hear just how long a note can sustain at the end, which is a longer than expected time.  Really, it's an exceptional interpretation.

I don't know if Schiff intends to record all of Schubert's piano works on a HIP instruments.  I do know he should.  Whatever happens, this twofer combined with the prior twofer represent HIP keyboard playing of the highest possible order, up there with PBS' LvB. 

Perfect sonics.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: Schubertiade!
« Reply #102 on: May 18, 2019, 03:50:00 AM »


This ain't my first go-round with Janina Fialkowska's Schubert.  I have her D664/D894 disc, and if not my favorite for either work, Ms Fialkowska most definitely knows her business.  So, when I found this disc for less than four bucks, it was obvious it would be stupid not to buy it.

The disc opens with D568, and one needn't wait long to be reminded that Ms Fialkowska is no wallflower pianist.  While never sounding strident, sweet lyricism is not her way.  Clean articulation, zippy tempi, springy rhythm, and a bit of oomph characterize her work.  The opening Allegro sounds immoderate, but that's quite fine, because the rhythmic component, especially, gets its due.  And the brightness of the playing really tickles the ear.  Mm-hmm.  The Andante molto finds Fialkowska slowing down as appropriate, but she also maintains more than a bit of tension in some sections, lending a sense of jitteriness to some of the music.  To be sure, some of the music sounds slow, contemplative and lovely, but the overall result remains unsentimental Schubert.  The Menuetto sounds a bit taut, but does not flow like some other versions, but that's quite alright since the tradeoff is a bit of clarity.  Fialkowska keeps the Allegro moderato closer snappy and forward-moving for a brisk, refreshing ending. 

Moving to the D935 Impromptus, Fialkowska keeps the same crisp, bright, unsentimental style.  In the first piece, unending lyricism gives way to patches of beautiful lyricism and segments of something harder driven.  Her playing before the final pages does actually take on the "heavenly lengths" style, as music just sort of unfurls beautifully.  Not as beautifully as in the A-flat major Impromptu.  Fialkowska maintains a proper, steady, slow tempo, and alternates between passages of forlorn beauty and outbursts with bite.  A calmness also pervades some of the slower playing.  The middle section merges taut delivery, wide ranging dynamics, and lyricism just so.  This may very well be my favorite Schubert Impromptu, and Fialkowska delivers a corker.  In the B-flat major, Fialkowska delivers a fairly standard approach, with much focus on melodic attractiveness and sprightliness, except for the slightly stormier middle section, where some ivory walloping gets added to the mix.  Very nice.  Also very nice is the vibrant and snappy F Minor.  The only drawback is that the playing becomes just a smidge congested, though that is more an artifact of recording than a concern I would have in real life.

So, Ms Fialkowska delivers a fine disc, peaking pretty darned high with the A-Flat Major Impromptu.

ATMA, per usual, delivers superb sonics.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations