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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Rondo in G, Op.51 No.2 (ca1797/98) [9:40]
Bagatelle, Op.119 No.4 in A major (1820-22) [2:02]
Bagatelle, Op.119 No.10 in A major [0:13]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Sonata No.20 in A D959 (1828) [40:26]
SCHUBERT Bernard Roberts(piano)
rec. live, 24 August 2005, Whiteley Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester.

Bernard Roberts is currently a teacher in the Keyboard Department of Chetham’s School of Music. This recital was part of the Fifth Chetham’s International Summer School and Festival for Pianists in 2005. The programme booklet states that all of the profits from the sales of this CD will be donated to the Keyboard Department at Chetham’s, so with a ‘value added’ aspect to this issue buyers can become part of a rapidly growing and increasingly recognised educational enterprise and festival.

Having just finished listening to Alfred Brendel’s new Philips live Schubert set review, I was more than happy to continue my total Schubert immersion with the main work on this disc, the Sonata D959. With Brendel consistently brisk and compact in his tempi, I wasn’t surprised to find Roberts a little longer in the opening Allegro. The other movements have similar timings, and in the final Rondo he actually comes in a good minute and a half shorter than Brendel. The Chetham’s audience is very well behaved, and hardly noticeable throughout the recording. The piano sound is also good, though the programme notes admit to ‘certain constraints on microphone placement’ which amounts to an apparent narrowing of the stereo image. I personally don’t find this much of a problem. It is however very much a ‘live’ performance, with a fair clutch of little slips here and there. The photo on the back of the booklet reveals that Roberts is not playing from memory – something about which I have no opinion one way or another. Like all great performers, Roberts’ communication of the music is far more important than the occasional technical blemish, and there is much fine playing here. Most impressive for me is the slow Andantino, from which Roberts manages to tease about as much tear-jerking tragedy out of the music as seems possible. By contrast his Scherzo is wittily playful, with little nuances of rubato which keep the listener on the edge of his or her seat.

The great D959 is framed on this disc by some of Beethoven’s lighter compositions for piano solo. The Rondo Op.51 has a lyrical expressiveness in which Roberts makes most of the Cantabile marking. His phrasing allows Beethoven’s beguiling simplicity in this work speak for itself, reminding me that I have neglected his complete Beethoven Sonatas (Nimbus) for too long. The two Bagatelles with which the programme is concluded show how Beethoven was able to turn his hand to simple pieces playable by almost anyone. The improbably short Op.119 No.10 acts as a witty little coda to the fairly serious No.4, which Roberts plays with transparency and charm.

This CD is as fine a souvenir of a splendid musical event as one could wish for. The recording is good enough, the programme is attractive and entertaining, and the playing is honest and expressive. As a distinguished British ambassador for the piano Bernard Roberts has his own following: fans, students and collectors need not hesitate in adding this recital disc to their collections.

Dominy Clements



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