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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Artur Schnabel – The Complete Schubert Recordings: 1932-50
Impromptus D.899 (recorded 1950)
No.1 in C minor [8.53]
No.2 in E flat [4.10]
No.3 in G flat [4.54]
No.4 in A flat [6.08]
Impromptus, Op. posth. D.935 (recorded 1950)
No.1 in F minor [9.04]
No.2 in A flat [7.14]
No.3 in B flat [9.44]
No.4 In F minor [6.41]
Allegretto in C minor, D.915 (recorded 1939) [4.54]
March in E, D.606 (recorded 1939) 3.21]
Moments musicaux, D.780 (recorded 1937)
No.1 in C [4.33]
No.2 in A flat [6.24]
No.3 in F minor [1.51]
No.4 in C sharp minor [3.51]
No.5 in F minor [1.15]
No.6 in A flat [6.37]
Piano Sonata No. 18 in D D.850 (recorded 1939) [37.41]
Piano Sonata No. 21 in A D.959 (recorded 1937) [34.52]
Piano Sonata No. 22 in B flat, D.960 (recorded 1939) [36.48]
Piano Quintet in A, Op. posth. 114, D.667 (‘Trout’) (recorded 1935) # [35.16]
Lieder (recorded 1932) @
Der Doppelganger – Schwanengesang D957  [4.15]
Die Stadt – Schwanengesang D957  [3.36]
Gruppe aus dem Tartarus D583 [3.34]
Der Kreuzzug D932 [4.11]
An die Laute D905 [2.01]
Der Musensohn D764 [2.08]
Erlkonig D328 [5.09]
Marches Militaires D.733 (Recorded 1937) *
No 1 in D [3.47]
No.2 in G [3.39]
No.3 in E flat [4.45]
Divertissement à la Hongroise in G minor D.818 (recorded 1937) [31.37]
March in G minor D.819 No. 2 (recorded 1937) [4.11]
March in B minor D.819 No. 3 (recorded 1937) [7.54]
Andantino varié in B minor D.823 (recorded 1937) [7.47]
Allegro in A minor (“Lebensstürme”), Op. posth. D.947 (recorded 1937) [12.25]
Rondo in A D.951 (1937) * [10.29]
Artur Schanbel, piano, Karl Ulrich Schnabel, piano *, Pro Arte
Quartet Members, Claude Hobday, double bass #, Theresa Behr-Schnabel, contralto @
MUSIC & ARTS CD 1175 [5 CDs: 65:10 + 62:19 + 71:42 + 71:30 + 74:29]

Schnabel’s Schubert recordings have seldom been absent from the catalogues and one can find transfers on any number of individual discs – French EMI Références has a double set, HPC has a four disc set, EMI in London has long been admired for its sets devoted to the entire corpus of Schnabel’s recordings. Now it’s the turn of Music & Arts and for this set they have enlisted the work of Mark Obert-Thorn. Thorn is actively engaged on a re-pitching programme – doubtless he always has – but it’s certainly more noticeable now than ever before in his work and this set benefits from his industry in this area. This is certainly the most important feature of this new set.
I’ve compared his work with EMI’s and the results are certainly as instructive as his work with some of Ferrier’s Deccas, which he published on Naxos. He has in general stabilised and corrected pitch problems that were present – to a greater or lesser degree – on earlier transfers. In the case of the Impromptus the tempo and pitch tightening is apparent; in the G flat [No.3] one can hear, in Obert-Thorn’s work, more passagework detail than before and the pitch correction has meant that the tempo has been accelerated from the very slightly sluggish tempo we have hitherto been used to.
Turn to the Moments musicaux and one can hear what precise pitching can do to a performance. No.1 in C is now marvellously quixotic a performance, more so than before in previous transfers, and the open-air treble frequencies have, I would suggest, radically altered our perception of Schnabel’s playing of it.
It’s a similar aural story when one turns to the Sonatas. The familiar teak heavy sonority of his playing of the Andantino of D959 has here been - I won’t say replaced but – modified into a slightly lighter touch; this, combined with retention of upper frequency hiss, means that the sound is freer in the treble. D960 reveals another advantage in M & A’s work – which is the rather greater immediacy of sound in the new transfers. In previous EMI transfers there has invariably been a degree of opacity that has come between the listener and the music making. There’s less in it as regards tonal matters in the middle frequencies but once again a revealing openness at the top is a benefit of the new transfer.
As regards the lieder nothing much will resolve the question of Theresa Behr-Schnabel’s voice but the pitch tightening is audible though here less intense – the resultant extra surface noise - these sides are certainly quite a deal noisier than the EMI counterparts - may disturb some but shouldn’t worry the majority. The effect of openness is welcome.
These are a few thoughts regarding the transfers and they will be the most important as regards purchasers. All these sides have passed into the lexicon of recorded history so only a few words will be necessary from me. I seldom argue with Harris Goldsmith’s liner notes but I tilt my lance at him with regard to his dismissive jibe of the Pro Arte Quartet’s “simpering” portamenti. One’s man simper is another man’s affection and I’m happy enough with their Franco-Belgian take on the Trout. Light hearted and airily textured with a leisurely Scherzo is how I’d characterise it. Maybe Goldsmith objects to the Andantino’s scoops but the trills are crisper than crisp and a delight.
Schnabel’s wife Thérèse had always shown profound musicality on disc but by 1932 the voice was becoming frayed and unsteady; there are registral breaks galore and she simply doesn’t have the voice for a song such as Gruppe aus dem Tartarus. Notwithstanding the opportunity to hear Schnabel as an accompanist these are imperfect documents of a powerful artist who, at only fifty-six, was yet well past her prime.
The recordings Schnabel made with his son Karl Ulrich are full of splendid tonal variety and powerful sonority and real warmth. There’s a witty diminuendo in the G minor March and a really knowing and successful approach to its companion in B minor where the clipped, détaché phrasing is contrasted with a languorous relaxation.
The Sonata recordings are doubtless too well known to need much ink spilling though one notices again how rhythmically unsteady Schnabel becomes in the opening Allegro vivace of D850. As indeed one notices how slow the Andante sostenuto is of D960 and how rhythmically capricious he could be in Schubert’s Scherzi (as indeed he is here). 
All in all this is an impressive restoration of Schnabel’s Schubert and I consider them the finest transfers of this body of work available. Notes by Goldsmith are predictably comprehensive and personal (including his Pro Arte dig, for which he is forgiven). Added to which the five CD box is priced as for four.
Jonathan Woolf


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