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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Music for Piano Duet Vol. I
CD 1
Six Grandes Marches and Trios, D.819 (1824) [55:43]
Three Marches militaires, D.733 (1826) [13:57]
Deutsche Tänze mit 2 Trios, D.618 (1826) [5:20]
Two Ländler, D.618 [2:06]
CD 2
Grande marche funèbre, D.859 (1825) [10:46]
Grande marche héroïque, D.885 (1825) [17:19]
Marsch (Kindermarsch), D.928 (1827) [3:17]
Deux Marches caractéristiques, D.886 (ca1826) [14:39]
Trois Marches héroïques, D.602 (ca.1818) [18:39]
Grand Rondeau, D.951 (1828) [12:59]
Christoph Eschenbach and Justus Frantz (piano)
rec. Studio I, Abbey Road, London, October 1979, January 1979 (D618), January, February 1978 (D951)
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 36532127 [79:24 + 78:26]

Music for Piano Duet Vol. II

CD 1
Vier Ländler, D.814 (1824) [3:50]
Fantasie, D.940 (1828) [18:34]
Allegro ‘Lebensstürme’, D.947 (1828) [17:09]
Divertissement à la Française, D.823 (pub.1826) [43:11]
CD 2
Divertissement à la Hongroise, D.818 (pub.1826) [32:12]
Grand Duo, D.812 (1824) [47:21]
Christoph Eschenbach, Justus Frantz (piano)
rec. Studio I, Abbey Road, London, January, February 1978, January 1979 (D812)
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 36532622 [74:15 + 79:28]
 


While is is undoubtably a Good Thing that EMI are keeping these classic recordings in the catalogue by reissuing them on their new GEMINI ‘twofer’ label, keen collectors may find they already have these very CDs in their collections. They have appeared in the not too distant past on EMI’s own Double fforte budget label, and the recordings were also licensed to Brilliant Classics, who brought them out in a 4 CD box. In other words, as if there wasn’t enough competition out there, these new incarnations have to compete with a market already replete with copies of the same recordings under different labels. They have no special remastering attributes or other USPs - the digital remastering was already done in 1997 - so EMI must be hoping that another re-packaging will help things along.
 
Whatever their recent history, these late 1970s recordings sound superbly fresh and vivid. The piano has all of the richness and variety of colour you would hope for in the four-handed setting, and Christoph Eschenbach and Justus Frantz always did have that special chemistry which turns this kind of chamber music-making into something more than a little special.  
 
Schubert used to host musical evenings at his home to which musicians would seek to be invited to perform the master’s works. These were called Schubertiades and the simplest form of non-solo instrumental music was that for two people playing one piano - in duet. During his short life, Schubert probably produced more music for this combination than any other major composer. The many marches included in this catalogue of work are covered in volume I of these two sets, but while many of these have an occasional character they almost invariably have one or more ‘hooks’ which always make them that little bit more interesting to perform and listen to than you might imagine. Not for nothing did many of these works become among Schubert’s most popular, many of them having been endlessly arranged for everything from brass band to barrel-organ. CD 2 of volume I covers the more heavyweight marches, such as the Grande Marche funêbre and Grande Marche héroique which were written to mark the death of Tsar Alexander I and the coronation of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. These extended pieces have all the romantic character one might expect of such themes, even though no-one seems to know quite why Schubert felt the need to mark these events in music. The Kindermarsch and two Marches charactéristiques are all late Schubert, and filled with disarming lyrical simplicity and racy exuberance respectively. All of these works are played with consummate control, and the acoustic of Studio I Abbey Road is undamped, giving the piano wide elbow-room in which to develop all of the volume of sound and dynamic one could possibly want.
 
Volume II of this pair is the one which will interest most people, containing as it does the great Fantasia D940 and the Grand Duo D812. Composed between January and April of his last year of life, 1828, the Fantasia in F minor recalls the happy days that Schubert spent with Countess Caroline Esterházy, to whom it is dedicated. It is thought that his one-time pupil was the object of a great deal of Schubert’s affection in that he once claimed that, in his own mind, all of his works were dedicated to her. Eschenbach and Frantz set out at a fair pace in the opening of the Fantasia, but everything they do has elegance and subtlety. The tempo suits the dramatic second theme, which becomes a driving, elemental force. I like this duo’s well considered dynamic layering of themes and accompaniments, and only find their touch a little heavy-handed in the first fugal entries in the coda (track 7, 7:02). They don’t knock my desert island favourite of Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu (Sony, originally CBS) off its perch, and I still have the recent grandly impressive two-piano version of Evgeny Kissin and James Levine (RCA) rattling around in my brain, but we’re entering a different price class with this one.
 
The Allegro D947 is very impressive on this recording – Eschenbach and Frantz’s dramatic style suiting the extremes of contrast in this piece to excellent effect. They pace themselves well over the vast expanse of the Grand Duo in C D812, pointing out the intimately pianistic nature of the work as well as its symphonic scale of design.
 
Despite the generation gap between these and the more recent recordings currently available, Eschenbach and Frantz give no quarter in terms of performance or recorded sound. I would certainly recommend these two volumes over the Naxos series, and, having toyed with the Yaara Tal and Andreas Groethuysen complete recordings on Sony, have my doubts as to whether the difference in price represents an equally significant benefit in terms of quality. Just look at those timings as well – certainly no doubts about value there. In other words, all you have to do before hastening to add these CDs to your collections is make sure you don’t have them already – though if you do, I can’t imagine you would have forgotten.
 
Dominy Clements   
 

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