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!
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’.
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
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!
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