is remarkable to hear a great pianist of Schnabel's ilk in 'lesser'
works of the composer he is perhaps most associated with.
of the pieces here were recorded after he had put the sonatas
down for posterity, so to go back to a Rondo that Beethoven
wrote when he was twelve (WoO49) must have been quite a challenge.
Yet Schnabel gives this delightful snippet all the elegant simplicity
it requires. Ornaments are lovely; delicacy is all. Most importantly,
he gives it his full consideration.
is this sense of dedication that characterises every performance
on this disc – and what a treat to enjoy them in Mark Obert-Thorn's
transfers. He used multiple copies of British, French and American
pressings to achieve the quietest surfaces.
the E flat Minuet inhabits much the same world as the Rondo,
the Op. 33 Bagatelles are more 'Beethoven proper'. Schnabel
captures the sweet enigma of the first to perfection – and it
is this 'sweet enigma' that lies at the heart of these pieces.
The very Beethovenian Scherzando of the second, the false
simplicity of the third, all seem just right – just as does
the elusive final Bagatelle.
sets of Variations appear here. The F major, Op. 34 is the most
under-rated, and in Schnabel's hands it makes one ask even more
why this is so. The Theme is given out with the utmost concentration,
as if seeming to want to hide its potentialities: of which we
are only allowed six, of course! Schnabel's pacing is masterly,
so the set as a whole emerges as exploratory yet completely
coherent. The fantasy of the final variation is expert – it
all sounds so of the moment.
genius in Variation form is even more obvious in the Eroica
Variations. The disc surfaces seem somewhat noisier in this
instance, but the actual tonal reproduction of the piano and
Schnabel's nuances are fine. What shines most of all is Schnabel's
complete grasp of Beethoven's process, culminating in the real
expansion of thought of the Fifteenth Variation (Maggiore:
Largo). Concentration is at its height here, leading to
a 'Finale alla Fuga' that rises from hushed beginnings
to exude tremendous force.
G minor/B flat Fantasia, for all its capricious quasi-extempore
nature seems, under Schnabel's fingers, almost to have been
conceived for the organ - especially around the four-minute
mark. Finally - and how appropriate an encore is this? - the
ultra-famous Für Elise Bagatelle, dispatched with the
touch of a master.
more volume to go, it appears, in this excellent series. In
the meantime, hunt this one out.
see also Reviews
by Christopher Howell and Robert