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Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Six Moments musicaux, D780a (1823-1828) [20:06]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Waldszenen, Op. 82a (1849-1849) [21:21]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 21 in C, Op. 53 Waldsteinb (1803-1804) [21:31]
Wilhelm Backhaus (piano)
rec. aOctober 1955 and blive, Salzburg, 29 August 1954. ADD mono

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There is no doubt about the status of Backhaus as one of the greats of the piano. The combination of Schubert, Schumann and Beethoven here makes for a satisfying programme. A warning about the transfer, though – it is set at a high level, so adjustment will be needed. It is a shame especially as the first piece (D780 No. 1) is so tranquil.

His Schubert playing is simply wonderful - this D780 was originally on London LL 1725. The use of so much pedal over the first statement of No. 1 may come as a surprise, but what shines through is the tranquillity of the interpretation – tranquillity without longueurs, it should be emphasized! 

Calmness characterizes the second piece (the famous A flat major), a movement also noteworthy for the clear right-hand octave articulation. The third is that intriguing mix that can come from great artists such as Backhaus: innocence with a substratum of knowing - Arrau was another who excelled at this. It is telling to compare this with Backhaus’s 1928 recording of D780/3 - on Andante 2996/9, from HMV DB1126. In the earlier version there is less of this undercurrent. It is fresher, more impulsive.

The fourth Moment shows Backhaus’s sensitivity to harmonic shifts and implications: a vital part of any Schubertian’s interpretative apparatus. This enables fine contrast with the very F minor fifth Moment. Grim and determined, it leads to the final A flat, where Backhaus finds just the right amount of emphasis for the dissonances without any semblance of ‘milking’.

Schumann’s Waldszenen is one of his greatest piano works, yet it remains one of the less frequently played or recorded. If you want to argue with my statement of this work’s worth, can I suggest you hear Backhaus first; this is his Decca recording. The artless simplicity of the very first piece (‘Eintritt’) is breathtaking. The scurrying ‘Jäger auf der Lauer’ contains magnificent horn-calls, while the voice-leading of ‘Einsame Blumen’ is positively heart-breaking - the voice-leading of ‘Verrufene Stelle’ is similarly magical.

The most famous of Schumann’s Op. 82 is surely, ‘Vogel als Prophet’, here as off-the-cuff as can be imagined. By the end of the final movement, ‘Abschied’, one is left hanging gorgeously in the air, floating. Superb.

Finally, a live ‘Waldstein’ from Salzburg. The acoustic is distinctly dry but one can only sit agape at the amazing articulation of semiquavers. Backhaus ensures that a shadow of darkness falls over the latter stages of the first movement, as if presaging the truly restful ‘Adagio molto’. The finale, too, enters as the very epitome of peace. There are strong sections, too, but they soon melt. The famous ‘glissandi’ effects are very careful here - think bells!

Interestingly this performance immediately precedes the Decca recording (Geneva, LXT 5596) and as such forms a valuable adjunct.

A superb programme, therefore. Transfers are acceptable but bear in mind the high level. 

Colin Clarke 





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