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Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
Piano Works for Four Hands

Variations in Bb, D.968A (D.603) (1818) [10.30]
Rondo in A, D.951 (1828) [12.27]
Allegro ma non troppo in a, "levensstürme", D.947 (1828) [16.41]
Divertissement über französische in b Motive: Andantino Varié, D.823/II [9.03]
Fantasie in f, D.940 (1828) [19.15]
Rico Gulda, Christopher Hinterhuber (piano)
Recorded at Alte Reitschule at Grafenegg Castle, Austria, 31 May 2002
Notes in English, Deutsche, Français.
NAXOS 8.555930 [67.56]

Comparison recordings:

Paul Badura-Skoda and Jörg Demus [monophonic] Wesminster LP XWN 18344/5

Allow me to point out, at the risk of being obvious, that works for piano four hands differ in several important senses from works for two pianos or piano duo: First, in the former, one pianist plays all the high notes and the other all the low notes, and they negotiate over the notes in between. Second, in the former, the pianists are sitting so close together that they are intimately aware of each otherís body movements, so precise matching of phrases is possible, much more so than is usual with pianists sitting at separate pianos and who may or may not even be able to see each other as they play. So it was important for me to determine if this is truly a four-hand one piano performance, and I can assure you on the evidence of both my ears and careful listening to the stereo perspective that it is. This is easy to determine because a piano duo recording would have the high notes from one side and the low notes from the other.

My mother refused to listen to any music by Schubert (except, of course, the Unfinished Symphony) because when she was in high school two teachers whom everyone despised would play the four hands arrangement of the Marche Militaire at every single school assembly. She was not being so unreasonable as you might imagine. Poorly played four hand piano music and two-piano music can sound galvanisingly monotonous in rhythm, a dunning dum-da-da-dum that can give me a headache and can cause nausea in others. Suffice it to say that these performances left me not merely generously free of medical symptoms but were highly enjoyable and achieved a commendable grace and lightness of phrase.

Brahms must have known the Rondo in a well, as there is a curious brief quotation from it in Brahmsí two piano version of the Variations on a Theme of Haydn.

This performance of the Fantasie in f, certainly one of Schubertís supreme masterpieces, is not quite the best Iíve ever heard; it is possible to draw more drama and mystery from this music, which is in one sense an impassioned operatic scene between innocence and hope on the one side and everything else on the other. It is one of the works that gives us a vision of the mature Schubert who never lived writing the greatest nineteenth century German operas. One thing this work is not is a jolly folk dance and that is a little too much in evidence here. Perhaps one might describe this performance as "youthful" with all the good and bad that that connotes. Demus and Badura-Skoda were young when they made their recordings, but living in Vienna they effectively assimilated the mature traditions without losing their energy and vivacity.

Between the Variations and the Fantasie are three works that Schubert might have intended to work together into a multi-movement suite for two pianos, performed here curiously not in the order that they might have taken in such a suite ó but no matter, it comes off fine anyway.

However, the rest of the works are performed nearly as well as Iíve ever heard them.

Is it unfair of me to use to out-of-print vinyl disks as comparison recordings? No, I donít think so. These old recordings should be and may at any time be restored to the CD catalogue, and any modern CD recordings I might choose for comparison may have been deleted or be otherwise unavailable, by the time you read this review due to circumstances over which I have no control and cannot predict. Furthermore these early recordings were so sensationally popular that they circulated widely and are probably available to many persons through libraries and record collector friends. They set a standard of performance and recording quality with which these artists are probably familiar with and which they probably strive to emulate.

Paul Shoemaker

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