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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Italian Concerto in F major BWV971 (1735) [12:05]
Toccata in C minor BWV 911 (1710s) [10:50]
Toccata in D major BWV 912 (1710s) [11:46]
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor BWV 903 (c1720 rev c1730) [11:19]
Concerto for two keyboards in C major BWV 1061 [19:33] ¹
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Book I, BWV 846-869 – Prelude and Fugue in D major BWV 850 (1722) [3:39]
Artur Schnabel (piano)
Karl-Ulrich Schnabel (piano) ¹
London Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Boult ¹
Rec. Abbey Road, London 1936 (Concerto No.2), 1937 (Toccatas). 1938 (Italian Concerto), 1948 (Chromatic Fantasia) and 1950 (Prelude and Fugue)
NAXOS 8.111286 [69:12]
Experience Classicsonline

Schnabel’s Bach recordings have been doing the rounds of late. EMI Références (67210-2) transferred them not so long ago and Doremi [7740] has done likewise. Urania contained most of the same ground but we can discount that selection and the Doremi, which are sonically far inferior to EMI and Naxos’s work. Earlier re-release work was on Pearl.
 
Schnabel’s Bach was uneven but at its best penetrating. His Italian Concerto is conveyed at a festive tempo in the outer movements, buoyant rhythmically albeit sometimes at the expense of gabbled passagework. Some of the leaps are blurred; the sense of strain is palpable though oddly it remains not unattractively masculine. The expressive intimacy of the slow movement perhaps suits him better; the finale reverts to the vibrancy of the opening though somewhat vitiated once again by sketchy detailing.
 
The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor BWV 903 does contain elements of the technical lapses alluded to but the starker rhetoric and Schnabel’s control of the gravity of the writing ensures a perceptive, telling and frequently compelling reading. The ascending arc of acuteness is reached in the two Toccatas, which are the high points of his Bach discography. The opening of the C minor is relatively slow but affectingly intimate and direct, its Fugue I quite emphatic, the Fugue II powerful and directional.  The D major reprises these virtues with a rather gruff avuncularity to be detected in the Introduction and correspondingly stark intensity in the Adagio.  The Concerto performances teamed him with his son Karl-Ulrich and Adrian Boult, somewhat unusually directing not his BBC forces but the LSO, regular concerto partners of Schnabel’s at this time. It’s a supple performance, strong on linearity, and not stooping to smell the roses, especially not in the first movement.
 
Despite marketplace saturation point for these recordings, made over the years between 1936 (the concerto) and 1950, the year before Schnabel’s death, the fine, realistic sounding transfers, and budget price will – and should – attract admirers.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 
Reviews of other Schnabel recordings on Naxos Historical
 


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