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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Impromptus D.899[28:35], Impromptus D.935 [33:54]
SCHUBERT/Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Song transcriptions: Ständchen S.560/7 [05:12], Auf dem Wasser zu singen S.558/2 [03:51], Erlkönig S.558/4 [04:28]
Murray Perahia (piano)
rec. 22-23 November 1982, Vanguard Studios, New York City (D.899), 18 December 1980, Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York City (D.935], 27-28 November and 1-2 December 1998, Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, Hampstead, London (Schubert/Liszt)
SONY CLASSICAL SK 94732 [76:25]

This is simply wonderful. Wonderful to hear every dynamic gradation Ė from pianissimo to piano, from forte to fortissimo Ė perfectly realized, wonderful to hear every accent precisely placed, and wonderful to hear all these things done, not with pedantic precision but with a full awareness of their place in Schubertís scheme, of their meaning. Wonderful, too, to hear such warm yet limpid tone, always singing, never heavy.

In the first of the D.899 set, Schubertís journey is charted spaciously yet with that essential sense of perpetual movement, poised between remembered bliss and present pain. In the second Schubertís brook chatters over the pebbles, again mirroring pain as well as happiness in its waters, while the despairing central section protests with a Schubertian grace that is never allowed to become Beethovenian rage. The third has a sublime serenity that nonetheless allows darker currents to come to the surface. And so I could go on, racking my brain for new adjectives to describe each piece. Just take it that this is one of the most beautiful piano records ever made.

With so many "great interpreters" one has to put the score on one side to appreciate what they have to tell us, and it really does often seem that a living musical experience and scrupulous observance of the score are incompatible. Perahia shows that this need not be so. You may have complete confidence that you will hear nothing that Schubert did not write, played by an interpreter totally aware of, and totally able to communicate, the meaning of what Schubert wrote. And to think that these performances have been around for over twenty years without my knowing about them! Never mind, in the meantime I have been enjoying performances by such as Fischer, Schnabel, Curzon and Brendel, and of course I am not going to suggest that these are now unseated. Just that Perahia is up there with the greatest of them.

As an extra we have more recently recorded performances of three of Lisztís transcriptions of Schubertís songs. The "Erlkönig" is a "straight" transcription, simply making the music available to the pianist Ė if he is good enough. The others start that way, but having worked through the verses of the song, Liszt then lets his own imagination take over, with canonic imitation in "Ständchen" and a really rather outrageous no-holds-barred inflation of Schubertís gentle original in "Auf dem Wasser zu singen". Perahia shows great skill in bringing out the different voices from the texture, but above all in starting each one in echt-Schubertian vein and then letting Liszt gradually take over.

Donít miss this.

Christopher Howell



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