Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonatas

Piano Sonata in B flat major D 960 [43’52"]
Piano Sonata in B major D 575 [22’33"}
Lebensstürme for piano duet* [11’38"]
Klára Würtz (piano)
*with Pieter van Winkel (piano)
Recorded 11 May & 28/29 November 2000
Piano Sonata in A major D 959 [44’44"]
Piano Sonata in E minor D 566 [25’52"]
Frank van de Laar (piano)
Recorded 17/18 October 2000
Piano Sonata in C minor D 958 [31’00"]
Six Moments Musicaux D 780 [28’17"]
Folke Nauta (piano)
Recorded 20 March, 20 June 2000
Piano Sonata in D major D 850 "Gasteiner" [41’52"]
Piano Sonata in C major D 840 "Relique" [23’37"]
Piano Sonata in A flat major D 557 [14’19"]
Frank van de Laar (piano)
Recorded 13/14 November 2000
Piano Sonata in A minor D 784 [23’42"]
Piano Sonata in G major D 894 [39’43"]
David Kuyken (piano)
Recorded 7/8 December 2000
Piano Sonata in A minor D 537 [23’42"]
Piano Sonata in A major D 664 [23’47"]
Drei Klavierstücke (Impromptus) D 946* [29’48"]
Klára Würtz (piano)
*Pieter van Winkel (piano)
Recorded 10/11 May, 13 December 2000
Piano Sonata in A minor D 845 [38’09"]
Piano Sonata in E major D 459 [27’59"]
Bart van Oort (fortepiano)
Recorded 30 November, 1 December 2000
iano Sonata in F sharp minor D570/571 (finished by Alwin Bär) [17’16"]
Piano Sonata in C major D 613 (finished by Alwin Bär) [16’23"]
Piano Sonata in F minor D 625 (finished by Alwin Bär) [19’35"]
Sonata Movement in C sharp minor D 655 (finished by Alwin Bär) [4’26"]
Ungarische Melodie D 817 [4’18"]
Zwei Scherzi D 593 [9’35"]
Alwin Bär (piano)
Recorded 11/12 April 2000
Piano Sonata in E major D 157 [15’00"]
Piano Sonata in C major D 279 [22’17"]
Piano Sonata in E flat major D 568 [23’19"]
Fantasie in C minor D 2e [7’15"]
Allegretto in C minor D 915 [4’19}
Scherzo in B flat major D 593 [4’34"]
Tamara Rumiantsev (piano)
Recorded 18/19 December 2000
Impromptus Op. 90 Nos. 1 – 4 [27’20"]
Impromptus Op. 142, Nos. 1- 4 [39’04"]
Martijn van den Hoek (piano)
Recorded 24/25 June 2000
Fantasie in C major D 760 "Wanderer Fantasie" [21’32"]
Deutsche Tänze Op. 9 Nos. 2, 3, 5 & 6 [1’48"]
Deutsche Tänze Op. 18 Nos. 1 & 4 [1’57"]
12 Wiener Deutsche Tänze D 128 [12’11"]
Wiener Deutsche Tänze D 643 & 722 [1’37"]
2 Deutsche Tänze D 769 [2’02"]
16 Deutsche Tänze D 783 [10’39"]
Deutsche Tänze D 820 [6’06"]
Deutsche Tänze D 970 [3’45"]
3 Deutsche Tänze D 971 [2’16]
3 Deutsche Tänze D 972 [2’00"]
3 Deutsche Tänze D 973 [3’03"]
2 Deutsche Tänze D 974 [1’16"]
Deutsche Tänze D 975 [0’53"]
Martijn van den Hoek (piano)
Recorded 24/25 June 2000; all recordings made in Remonstrantse Gemeente Deventer
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99798 [11 CDs 78’08"+70’42"+61’01"+79’54"+62’15"+77’19"+66’10"+71’36"+76’51"+66’24"

Brilliant Classics have built up their catalogue in two ways. Many of the recordings they issue are in fact reissues, licensed from other labels, often German and in many cases these are very good. The remainder of their catalogue comprises new recordings by younger musicians, and mainly based in the Netherlands, as is the case with this bumper box of Schubert’s piano literature. Here, with the exception of Klára Würtz, who is Hungarian, all the artists are Dutch and, to judge by their biographies, all are of good pedigree, an impression confirmed by hearing them play.

I think there is often a tendency for bargains, whether of CDs or other things, to be dismissed on the grounds that "if it’s cheap, it can’t be any good." I’ve fallen into that trap before, as I expect most of us have and I was also conscious in approaching this box that these pianists face formidable competition from a whole roster of virtuosi, household names all. I remembered, however, that the Brilliant Classics cycle of Bach cantatas under Pieter Jan Leusink, though uneven, has given me considerable pleasure. So in approaching these recordings I decided to discipline myself in two ways. Firstly I left until last the very best known works and secondly I eschewed all conscious comparisons and treated the recordings on their own merits. That second point may raise eyebrows but I reasoned that it is likely that anyone investing in this box will do so as a way of approaching the corpus of Schubert’s sonatas and may well have few (or no) other recordings in their collection. So, how do these recordings stand up?

The short answer is: pretty well. Without exception the pianists involved perform Schubert’s music with commitment and sympathy. All the performances are enjoyable and some are extremely good. Frank van de Laar, for example, plunges straight into the D major sonata, D850 (CD 4, track 1). In his hands the first movement of this sonata, which is contemporaneous with the "Great" C major symphony, is lively and robust. But he can show a more relaxed temperament too and he gives a thoughtful reading of the slow movement while I found his account of the finale very engaging – he puts a smile on the face of the music. Van de Laar is equally impressive in the C major sonata D 840 (what a pity Schubert never completed it). His third offering is the more modest, three movement A flat sonata D557. This is a less challenging work (though far from easy for the performer) and I thought it a perfect foil to its two bigger companions on this disc.

David Kuyken also impressed me very much with his handling of the A minor sonata D 784 (CD 5). This has a big, searching first movement, suggestive of Beethoven. Kuyken is well up to the demands of the music. His tone has plenty of weight but he is also ready and willing to fine it back for the many quieter passages. In the easeful second movement he conveys a greater sense of repose and in the whirlwind finale his fingerwork is put through its paces – to good effect. Kuyken’s other contribution is the fine G major sonata D 894. This has a huge first movement and Kuyken handles the big structure with confidence and no little skill. I particularly warmed to his playing of the opening paragraphs, which are pregnant with tension.

The seventh CD in this anthology is something of a curiosity. Uniquely, the pianist uses not a modern concert grand but a fortepiano. I really was puzzled that the contents of just one disc should be played on a fortepiano. Perhaps it was inspired by the fact that the chosen instrument is believed to date from around 1825. This is the same year that one of the sonatas included on this disc, the A minor sonata D 845, was composed. I have to say, however, that I think the decision to use a fortepiano was misguided. Frankly, the instrument is out of place in a collection otherwise played on modern pianos. I’m sure that Bart van Oort is a fine musician but I’m reluctant to pass a verdict on his playing since I feel that my judgement has been swayed (distracted?) by the fact that I disliked the sound made by the fortepiano. To my ears it sounds to have a tinkly top and a very shallow bass. Inevitably the instrument lacks the tonal depth and richness of a modern grand and, of course it lacks sustaining power. I felt that van Oort was too forceful in the first movement of D 845 (CD 7, track 1) but I wonder if this style was dictated by the fortepiano? Similarly, if the andante of the same sonata sounds charmless I question whether this is a true reflection of his pianism. Somehow I doubt it.

Interestingly, I felt that the other sonata on this CD, the E major D 459 fared better. This is an earlier work (unusually cast in five movements, including two scherzi, placed second and fourth). The musical material of this work requires less sustaining power than is the case with D 845 and thus is better suited to a fortepiano. Van Oort’s performance is lively and seems well thought out but I’m afraid that, for me, this whole disc is hobbled by the instrument.

The contents of discs eight and nine are, I think, more for Schubert completists. CD 8 largely contains fragmentary works, most of which date from 1817/18. In several cases movements have been left incomplete by Schubert and in these cases pianist Alwin Bär has supplied completions. I believe that he has done this by using existing musical material from the movement in question though the otherwise good notes are silent on this point. The completions sound musical and logical though in the absence of scores or more information I find it difficult to comment further. Bär is a stylish pianist and he plays with grace and wit. So too does Tamara Rumiantsev who is the pianist on CD 9. She has even slighter fare allotted to her, mainly in the form of early works. To be absolutely candid I did not find the music on this CD of great interest but Rumiantsev is clearly a good pianist and she gives elegant and well-paced performances.

I haven’t mentioned the sixth CD. This is allotted to pianists from whom we shall hear again in this survey. Klára Würtz gives us two sonatas. The A major sonata D 664 opens with one of Schubert’s trademark genial themes (CD 6, track 4). This is the harbinger of a relaxed and lyrical movement, largely innocent of tension. Würtz does it justice. Indeed, throughout the work I thought it was well suited to the feminine grace of her playing. I also enjoyed her account of the A minor sonata D 537 which is well shaped and which features a sparkling finale. The disc is completed by the Drei Klavierstücke D 946 which are played by Pieter van Winkel. I may be wrong but I thought that occasionally I detected just a touch of unsteadiness in the fingerwork in the faster music of the first of the three (CD 6, track 7). However, in the slower music his playing has poise. He plays the relaxed, lyrical second piece nicely and there’s an appropriate touch of gaiety to the third. This is a perfectly acceptable reading of this trio of pieces.

Now we move to the best known of Schubert’s piano works, starting with the two sets of Impromptus which are entrusted to Martijn van den Hoek (CD 10) I must say that I don’t think anyone could reasonably complain about the performances he gives. Throughout both sets his playing strikes me as being very good. The notes rightly identify the third piece of Op. 90 (CD 10, track 3) as a precursor of the Nocturne. It’s a gorgeous piece and van den Hoek gives a lovely, controlled reading of it. I was also much taken with the engaging performance of the wistfully nostalgic second piece of Op. 142 (track 6) and the gypsy-like rhythms of the final piece in that set (track 8) have a zestful snap. All in all this is a most satisfying account of these favourite pieces and one which could hold its head up in any company.

However, van den Hoek reserves his best for the great ‘Wanderer’ Fantasia (CD 11, tracks 1-4). This is, by any standards, a towering masterpiece of the piano repertoire and here it receives a really top-notch performance. The first section is commanding and is followed by an intense, serene traversal of the adagio. After a lithe scherzo van den Hoek plays the concluding fugue with great urgency and drive – a splendid tour de force. This, for me, is one of the highlights of the whole set, indeed, probably the highlight. I only wish that this fine pianist had been asked to plays something more substantial than the collection of slight dances with which the rest of CD 11 is filled. Well though he plays them these are really no tests of his pianism.

It is astonishing to reflect that in the single month of September 1828 Schubert, though mortally ill, managed to complete three large-scale and wonderful piano sonatas (though he had probably been working on all three for some time.) The C minor sonata D 958 is given here by Folke Nauta, twenty-seven years old at the time of this recording. He launches into the first movement (CD 3, track 1) with tremendous vigour. His performance is full of Beethovenian fire, not inappropriately, I think, for this is one of the most dramatic movements in all Schubert’s piano output. He plays it for all it is worth but his is not an unsubtle reading. I do think Nauta’s age is relevant here for this is a young man’s performance and we must not forget that the composer himself was of a similar age when he wrote the music. Nauta is pensive and persuasive in the slow movement and his finale is headstrong – which I mean as a compliment. This is certainly not the only way to play this sonata and it’s perhaps not a performance for everyday but it’s certainly fresh and exciting. He completes the CD with the Moments Musicaux D 780. I liked these performances though I could imagine more refined, poetic readings.

Frank van de Laar, who plays three sonatas on CD 4, also contributes the magisterial A major sonata D 959 (CD 2). He is fully in command of the massive first movement (track 1), displaying a good grasp of the structure, I think. It’s a huge and challenging movement but he sustains it well. The poetic andantino (track 2) is well controlled but I did wonder if he was too forceful in the scherzo. He gives a good account of the finale, though. The coupling is the E minor sonata D 566 about which the notes are a bit dismissive. I’d agree that it’s not a peak in Schubert’s oeuvre but it is well played here.

And finally the great B flat sonata D 960 (CD 1). This is in the hands of Klára Würtz. She gives a spacious account of the first movement. It is music of heavenly length but I did wonder if her treatment of it wasn’t just a bit too broad. She’s dignified in the slow movement but I felt that her speed in the finale was a bit too deliberate; the music doesn’t really take wing although there are some nice touches. Würtz also offers an engaging account of the B major sonata D 575 and then combines with Pieter van Winkel in a lively reading of the Lebensstürme duet

There’s nearly 13 hours of music contained on these discs, much of it of very high quality and all of it very enjoyable. The performances are all of a good standard and some are much better than that. The recorded sound throughout is very good. Documentation can vary with Brilliant Classics. Sometimes it’s scanty as with their Bach cantata cycle. On other occasions (the Barshai Shostakovich cycle being a case in point) it’s very good. Here no one could complain for there are well-written, informative notes by Dr. David Doughty and short biographies of the artists (which I’m glad to have since I imagine most, if not all, will be unfamiliar names to many collectors, as they were to me.)

Schubert’s piano sonatas have been recorded by some of the greatest of all pianists in a line that stretches from Schnabel through Kempff, Pollini, Brendel and many others. The performances contained here don’t displace those classic accounts but I don’t believe that for one minute that they were intended to do so. This collection

offers collectors an extremely cost effective way of beginning to explore the delights and profundities of Schubert’s sonata cycle. No one will feel short-changed by the contents of this box and so reasonable is the price that one could then move on to add some of the great individual recordings to one’s collection.

This box represents an outstanding bargain and can be recommended with confidence.

John Quinn

Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.