Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

SCHUBERT The Piano Masterworks Volume 1.

Allegretto in C minor D915
Four Impromptus D935
Sonata in B flat D960
Sonata in A, D664
Fantasie in C D760
Sonata in G D894
Anthony Goldstone (piano).
DIVINE ART 2-1202 2 CDs. [77.28 and 73.36 respectively] (DDD)
Divine Art Record Company

Excellent sound and beautiful, well-shaped performances of admirable elegance and supreme style. If you like Schubert you can but love these discs.

The Allegretto is a pretty tune but it is nothing else. It is played with loving devotion, expertly judged nuances but, as Arthur Rubinstein said "The only thing in its favour is its brevity."

The Impromptus are also superbly played but the music is full of repetition, tedious clichés, predictable harmonies and there is no real or substantial contrast or drama, no tension, no satisfactory form or logic just the same main theme chuntered out time and time again. For me, this makes the music over-blown and tedious. Well might my critics say that the melodies are glorious. Yes, I will agree but there is little else and this is one of the many reasons why I do not like Schubert. He could say all his thematic material in a third of the time he expends on these impromptus and that complaint can be made of much of his work. It has been said by many musicians that Schubert's music is inconsequential but excellent background music; not good enough to pay attention to. Be that as it may. Once you have heard the tune ten times in each piece you get fed up with it. Neither do I like Schubert's vamping style and Alfred Cortot said the same so I am in good company.

This music is like Jane Austen novels. They may have a charm but nothing of any real consequence happens whereas, by contrast, in Charles Dickens, and in the great Beethoven, things do happen.

The Second Impromptu highlights my case. The tune, although very slightly varied, is played eight times in the first minute, twelve times in two minutes and sixteen times in the first three minutes. This over-saturation is very boring and makes me quake at the designation that Schubert wrote masterworks which, I presume, is another way of saying 'masterpieces'. This reminds me of the end of Britten's War Requiem where two men sing to each other, Let us sleep now non-stop for the last four minutes. Pop musicians, if we can call them that, do it all the time. The pop group Blur, who certainly need lessons in diction, have a song with the repeated phrase 'In the country' sung thirty six times in about three minutes to the same melodic line. Absolutely awful!

Hello ..., five minutes into this Second Impromptu and what have we got? That same tune and.. guess what? ... it is repeated time and time again.

The Third Impromptu has a main theme, again slightly varied, which comes eight times in succession in a minute. Now, is that excessive or not? The theme is flogged to death but won't lie down. The music is lightweight but this could be said of much of Schubert's music

The Fourth Impromptu may be the best of the bunch. It has a scherzo flavour but all the many faults that I have already mentioned are still there.

The Sonata in B flat is the same vein. The opening movement is far too long to sustain the scant material at 18 minutes and the constant repetitions are really tedious. If you can put up with all these endless repetitions then you will enjoy this superior performance. The main theme is a good one and Goldstone has the ideal interpretation. The variety he brings to the theme does a great deal to ease ennui but what is so tellingly obvious is his love for this music. You won't find a better champion. His fingerwork and integration makes the piece bearable. Again, the sound quality is excellent.

Richter used to play Schubert in concerts very slowly and with all the lights out! He was a really eccentric player. I remember his making a first movement of a Schubert sonata 29 minutes long. Ugh! In the D major sonata, not on these discs, he made the passage of nothing but broken chords over seven minutes long! Really dreadful!

The second movement of the B flat sonata bored me to frustration and always has. The scherzo and trio benefit from brevity, if I can use Rubinstein's phrase and the finale is lightweight although Goldstone does his utmost to maintain interest.

The D major Sonata has a very good theme but guess what Schubert does to it? Yes, you've got it in one. It is done to death like a meal that has been in the oven too long. The melody keeps recurring as do Schubert's other devices but where is the drama, the tension, the contrast, the counterpoint, the clever modulations that one finds in Beethoven, the melodic variation, imitation and how many times does that tune appear in ten minutes? I have lost count.

The Andante left me cold and with the desire that it would hurry up and end. It reminded me of that wonderful story when Sir Alexander Gibson took his young son to see him conduct Elgar's Second Symphony. After the concert, Sandy asked his son if he thought the Elgar was too long.

The reply was, "Ach, nae, Daddy. It were nae too long. It just seemed too long!"

To return to the Schubert. The finale has a slight scherzo feel but is so typically Schubertian lightweight material. The quasi-waltz style was infuriatingly banal. One expects sonatas to have depth and purpose.

The Wanderer Fantasy is well-named and epitomises Schubert. It wanders and keeps coming back to the same signpost, the main theme. It has a good theme, a splendid signpost as it were, but we walk a few yards and come back to the same signpost to seek direction. It really is very tedious!

The G major Sonata should not receive any comment from me. I have used restraint and tried to be positive. But this piece is simply a waste of space and time. I would rather watch paint dry on a lovely summer's day. Listening to this sonata filled me with ire. It is an unmitigating bore. However, I do know people who love it and I respect them for it.

But... .Mr Goldstone is really superb.

Perhaps these discs should not have been sent to me for review. Nonetheless I have to be honest.

In Murray Schafer's book 'British Composers in Interview' one composer reminds us that Schubert wrote a theme several times in succession, left empty bars, wrote the theme again, left empty bars and so on, filling them in later. Rather like laying the footings of a new house and then building and fitting the roof before the walls etc. Daft!

David Wright

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