Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Brilliant Classics

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
4 Impromptus, D899 (1827)
4 Impromptus, D935 (1827)
Moments Musicaux, D780 (1823-8)
Drei Klavierstücke, D946 (1828)
Martijn van den Hoek, piano (Impromptus); Folke Nauta, piano (Moments Musicaux); Pieter van Winkel, piano (Klavierstücke)
Recorded Remonstrantse Doopsgezinde Gemeente Deventer, Netherlands, June & December 2000
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92100 2 CDs [66.24] and [60.12]

One of the peculiarities of Schubertís piano music is that from a technical point of view a competent amateur pianist would be able to manage most of it. The complex melody and accompaniment figures of Chopin, the pyrotechnics of Liszt, even the massive physical challenge of much of Brahms and Beethoven, little of all this is to be found in Schubert. When looked at on the page the writing seems simple, too, sometimes even primitive. Long passages of melody in octaves in the right hand and triplet accompaniment in the left: what could be simpler? And yet the greatest pianists have tackled these works and not all of them have succeeded. Why not?
The fact is that Schubertís piano music, perhaps more than almost any other composerís, needs very considerable advocacy if it is to be convincing. The music is often repetitive, and development sometimes almost perfunctory. There is little in the way of dramatic contrast, and the very simplicity of the writing can lead, in the wrong hands, to monotony.
Itís rather depressing to turn out a predictable review, but in the face of competition from the finest of those who have recorded these works, none of the pianists on this double CD has the charisma necessary to bring them to life. That is not to say that they do not play well. On the contrary, their playing is, for the most part, technically flawless, but they donít manage to bring out what is to be found, as it were, beyond the notes. The first impromptu of the D899 (Op. 90) set is a good example of what I mean. It is highly repetitive in content, the main theme returning regularly and with relatively little in the way of variation. Read from the page there seems to be a paucity of invention here for a piece lasting almost ten minutes, even if we acknowledge the beauty of the main theme. However, with a major advocate the piece is totally convincing. Brendel, for example, and especially Radu Lupu, manage to vary this piece to a remarkable degree, by way of dynamics, subtle ways of turning a phrase, the voicing of chords and so on, in such a way that the ear is led onward and never tires. The Dutch pianist Martijn van den Hoek, excellent player though he is, cannot match this at all, and when the music turns to the exquisite, but short-lived second idea there is sadly little of the fantasy and magical atmosphere both of the other pianists create. The second impromptu, in E flat major, is totally different in style, but the same weaknesses are in evidence. Van den Hoekís left hand accompaniment to the tumbling right hand scale passages is prosaic and unvaried, whereas Lupu makes something significant of it. The music of the contrasting section is aghast, so close to catastrophe and collapse, but little of this comes out in this performance. The final impromptus of this and of the D935 (Op. 142) set are perhaps the most successful, but even here the playing tends to be pale and the headlong final descending scale of the fourth impromptu of the second set lacks ferocity and wildness.
The other two pianists on the set seem to manage these problems a little better. Folke Nauta, admittedly, has slightly less of a challenge, as the individual pieces of the Moments Musicaux are shorter so that establishing and maintaining the mood are correspondingly easier. Even so, it is the accompanying left hand figures, in the second piece for example, which show a lack of flair and imagination though thereís no denying that the gentle melancholy of the piece is well established. The dance like rhythms in the short third piece are nicely pointed, however, though the rapid Bach-like figurations of the fourth are less convincing. The wistful sixth piece is well managed, apart from a certain hardness in the tone in fortes.
Pieter van Winkel chooses to play the first of the D946 pieces as first published, in an edition prepared by Brahms after Schubertís death, and which includes the lengthy second, slow interlude which Schubert had crossed out of his manuscript. This makes for a long piece, over thirteen minutes, even though van Winkel does not play all the repeats. All the same, this is perhaps the most imaginative playing on the set, though he is less successful in the placid parts of the second piece where the sheer simplicity of the music defeats him. The same comment might be applied to the third piece, and here, sad to say, even the more robust passages seem heavy-handed compared to the finest readings.
These discs are of course very cheap, the recorded sound is excellent and the accompanying notes are intelligent and informative. They give a useful selection of Schubertís piano works outside the sonatas. But anyone coming new to this repertoire via these performances will miss out on most of what the music is about, and might even find much of it boring, a desperate thought. Schubertís music is a quite extraordinary synthesis of sunny optimism and all that is hidden in the darkest corners of the human soul, expressed in music of deceptive simplicity with a wisdom beyond his years. So whilst we amateur pianists can make a stab at the notes, and professionals such as the three recorded here can begin to show us the way to the truth, it takes something like genius to realise much of what is really there. It is for this reason that relying on this set would be false economy, all the more so since there are magnificent performances available at less than full price. Brendel has recorded all of this repertoire and is available in cheaper reissues; he has the stature to persuade us of the greatness of this music. Lupu and Perahia are magnificent in the Impromptus, and Iíd like to recommend a newly released disc of the Klavierstücke (for which I wrote the booklet notes) on Concert Artist, played with customary mastery and imagination by Joyce Hatto.
William Hedley

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