Franz Schubert

Death and the Maiden Quartet

“Unfinished” Symphony

Goldstone & Clemmow (piano duet)

Divine Art dda 25125 TTP: 73’55”

 

The Chamber Eroica

Symphony No 3 in E Flat (Beethoven)

Version for piano quartet

Metier msvcd 2008

TTP: 49’01”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

SchubertSchubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet is one of the composer’s most loved and frequently heard works; it had its origins in Schubert’s lied of the same name. It is also a work of central significance in a famous play. But having over the years listened to too many indifferent arrangements of this and similar works in versions for piano duet, I was sceptical of this recent release.

 

I’m happy to say though that my doubts rapidly evaporated as I listened to this recording; it’s a version of excellence which I recommend warmly.

 

Its opening pages come across with immense authority. It makes for engrossing listening. The contrasts between lulling episodes and moments suggestive of stark terror are impeccably handled. I’d like to think that if Schubert himself had had the opportunity to listen to the Goldstone Duo, he’d have approved not only of the performance but of the very real skill invested in making this arrangement so approachable. Laurels, too, to the sound engineers who score high at every turn.

 

In the second movement, the duo is in top form, allowing the music to speak for itself by avoiding any tendency to excessive “expression” which can so easily ruin the moment. It’s a fine foil for the finale which is informed by high musicianship. Throughout, discreet but effective pedalling and buoyancy of momentum make this a model of good taste.

 

Whether or not Schubert felt that the two movements of his Unfinished Symphony were in and of themselves a complete statement and not needing the addition of other movements, will be haggled over interminably by music scholars.

 

What is clear about this recording is the excellence of the playing not least the quality of the secondo accompaniment which is, as is the primo part, a model of good taste. It’s a delightful musical outcome, the players reaching for the stars. The second movement, too, is a model of good taste.

 

Goldstone has transcribed the third movement from Schubert’s sketches. It’s beautifully done and fits the overall presentation like a glove. Some of Schubert’s incidental music for Rosamunde is drawn on for the finale. This is pleasant enough but, but for all the care lavished on it both and performance, it is not in the same league, substance-wise.

 

HOW INCONVENIENT  and irritating concertgoing must have been for music aficionados in, say, the early 1800s if they lived away from cities or large towns.

 

Eroica BeethovenIf they’d read about Mr Beethoven’s astonishing new symphonies in, say, the early years of the 19th century, how would they have been able to listen to these works unless they lived in a city with a resident orchestra or one or other amateur band?

 

No electricity, no radio, no recordings, no TV existed then – nor had they yet been dreamed of. So it became standard practice for composers – or others –  to arrange large scale works for much smaller ensembles which made these works far more portable than would than would otherwise have been the case.

 

Here, for instance, we listen to Beethoven’s Eroica symphony in an 1807 transcription for piano quartet. And while it is obviously impossible for four players to convey the sound and overall impact of a full orchestra, the arrangement is so clever and the playing so skilled that even the most demanding of concertgoers would, I think, feel compelled to agree that in the absence of a full orchestra, this performance is an  impressive alternative.

 

Throughout, the playing is masterly and satisfying – and the recording engineers have done a first rate job. It’s well worth a place in a good CD collection.

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