It is fairly common
knowledge that Artur Schnabel composed
in addition to his concert pianist activities.
It is just as commonly known that his
own compositions were more progressive
than much of the music in his repertoire.
What is much less known to almost everyone,
I suspect, are the compositions themselves.
So right from the beginning let’s welcome
this CPO release, issued in coo-operation
with WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk).
Taking two complementary
chamber works and a solo collection,
this disc has the effect of a snapshot
of Schnabel’s output. The very fact
that this is String Quartet No. 5, for
example, makes one wonder what 1-4 are
like … No. 5 is his last. But that is
surely to be ungrateful. The Fifth Quartet
was composed at Bear Lake, Colorado
and premiered on February 23rd,
1941 in New York. The first movement
(Allegro) breathes a Bergian sense of
yearning, yet there is drama there too.
Material is worked out in a busy, intense
way and the playing of the Pellegrini
Quartet is beyond criticism. The stasis
that appears around the eight minute
mark shows Schnabel’s debt to Webern
in the way that silence is interwoven
as a significant part of the musical
The swift, explosive,
nervous Scherzo that follows - the briefest
movement at just over three minutes
- is positively tensile, leading to
the darkly brooding Adagio molto slow
movement. Sul ponticello passages are
distinctly Schoenbergian. The finale
successfully marries a dancing gait
with expressionist intensity. There
is no doubt that this work will be an
eye-opener for the many who know Schnabel
through his Beethoven.
The Piano Trio dates
from five years later. The melodic,
endlessly inventive first movement is
fascinating, as is the slow movement
(Larghetto), with its large and achingly
expressive intervallic leaps. It is
possibly the finale that is most interesting,
however. Arrestingly energetic to begin
with, dancing figures try to break through,
quelled by quieter, intense passages.
The Ravinia Trio is
a wonderful ensemble; they premiered
York Höller’s Piano Trio, incidentally.
There is the continual feeling that
Schnabel’s music is getting the best
possible airing. Who could ask for more?.
Finally, a set of seven
Piano Pieces, dating from just after
the Trio. Here the shadow of Schoenberg
is at its longest especially in the
shadowy first. With a total duration
of 13 minutes, the individual pieces
last from less than a minute (the playful
second, coming in at 0’52) to the Lento
fifth movement (3’19), a movement replete
with single-line, lonely melodies. A
delicate Epilogue refers to threads
from the earlier six pieces.
This disc is of far
more than interest value. Composition
was clearly an important artistic outlet
for Schnabel. Maybe this disc opens
the door for further exploration?. I
do hope so.