> Dirk Schafer [JW]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Dirk Schafer (1873-1931)

Fréderic CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Waltz in G flat Op 70 No 1
Nocturne in F Op 15 No 1
Polonaise in D minor Op 71 No 1
Mazurka in A minor Op 17 No 4
Ecossaises in D, G flat and D flat Op 72 Nos 1-3
Berceuse in D flat Op 57
Nocturne in A flat Op 55 No 1
Waltz in A flat Op 42
Impromptu in A flat Op 29
Marche Funèbre from Sonata No 2 in B flat minor Op 35
Etude in A minor Op 25 No 11
Etudes in G flat and C minor OP 25 Nos 9 and 12
Fantasie Impromptu in C sharp minor Op 66
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)

Soeur Monique
Georg Friedrich HANDEL (1685-1759)

Fantasia in C
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Duport Variations
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Andante Favori (fragment)
Adolf HENSELT (1814-1889)

Berceuse in G flat
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Waltz in E Op 39 No 2
Dirk Schafer, piano
Recorded 1920s
PEARL OPAL CD 9861 [79.19]


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This is the kind of release that reflects well on all concerned. A grant from NOG Verzekeringen has enabled Pearl to produce, on its Opal label, a superb conspectus of the art of Dirk Schafer (1873-1931), a now little known pianist whose contrary career never took off in the way it might have done. Schafer was a contemporary of Mengelberg and they studied together at the Cologne Conservatoire. It was a four hand piano fiasco at the Farewell dinner of students – Mengelberg effectively elbowing Schafer off the keyboard – that led, it’s said, to the lifelong enmity Schafer harboured toward the conductor. Carl Flesch, who knew Schafer well, admired him and his compositions and was a sonata partner, had some astute things to say about the pianist, though couched in his forthright, not to say occasionally inflammatory, prose. Socially obstinate, shy, suffering from a petty hatred of Mengelberg and a persecution mania he was, Flesch maintained though not unkindly, a typical Dutch philistine. But for all his provinciality, for all his irascibility, his historical piano cycle – possibly inspired by Flesch’s own for violin a few years before – was an outstanding event in Dutch musical life. His violin sonata was dedicated to Flesch but this "hypochondriac with a heart of gold", in Flesch’s words, never quite fulfilled his talents as composer or, in the end, as a pianist. With this release though we can appreciate the essential and undoubted rightness of Flesch’s evaluation – this is a pianist of real stature, a musician of insight, an instrumentalist of tremendous gifts.

Schafer’s 78s are now collectors' items and I’m not sure that many, if any, have been reissued since their first appearance in the early to mid twenties. More than half of the performances are of Chopin and this is deeply persuasive Chopin playing. In the Nocturne in F his treble is of fascinating clarity, of pearl-bejewelled translucence. We can hear in the D minor Polonaise his remarkable ear for dynamics and the Mazurka is simply beautifully played. The transposed Ecossaises are lively, pliant and full of feeling whilst the Berceuse is effortlessly and unselfconsciously despatched. He is never too fast for proper clarity of articulation in the Impromptu in which he is musical without ostentation and again his superfine ear for dynamic gradation is apparent. The Marche Funèbre from the second Sonata is neither volcanic nor over-emoted – tonal gradation scrupulously adhered to, though he has a tendency to arpeggiate to excess here. If you know, say, Rubinstein’s 1964 live Moscow performance you will not recognise in Schafer the colossal and demonic that the Polish pianist favoured but you will admire the balance of hands and the different aesthetic and emotional impulses involved. Maybe there isn’t quite enough clarity to the melodic line in the A minor Etude, though it is remarkable enough playing of a fiendish study. In his electrical recordings, conjecturally from 1926, equal characteristics are present. Listen to the sheer limpidity of phrasing in the Duport Variations or how in the Henselt he utilises the most subtle rubati and how supremely elegant is the plasticity of his phrasing.

The excellent notes are by Floris Juynboll, helpful and intelligent, the copies used are in fine sound and the transfers have been carried out with skill. A most distinguished release.

Jonathan Woolf


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