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Artur SCHNABEL (1882-1951)
String Quartet No. 5a (1940) [26’30].
bPiano Trio (1945) [21’50].
Seven Piano Piecesc (1946/7) [14:18]
aPellegrini String Quartet (Antonio Pellegrini, Thomas Hofer, violins; Fabio Marano, viola; Helmut Menzler, cello); bRavinia Trio (Saiko Sasaki, piano; Rainer Schmidt, violin; Helmut Menzler, cello); cBenedikt Koehlen (piano).
Rec. Funkhaus Wallrafplatz, Köln, on aFebruary 20th-22nd, 2002, cOctober 13th, 1992, bHans Rosbaud Studio, Baden-Baden, on June 23rd, 1997. DDD
CPO 999 881-2 [62’17]


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 fabric.

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.

Colin Clarke



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