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Schubert and his Circle
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Piano Sonata in C major, D840, "Reliquie" (1825) completed by Brian Newbould [43:50]
Thirteen Variations on an Theme of Anselm Hüttenbrenner, D576 (1817) [14:50]
Anselm HÜTTENBRENNER (1794-1868)

Piano Sonata in E major, Op.16 (1826) [18:26]

Deutscher in C sharp minor, D643 [0:56]
Josef HÜTTENBRENNER (1796-1882)

Tanz der Furien [1:12]
Todd Crow (piano)
rec. 30-31 May 2006, Martel Recital Hall, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York

While this release will be leapt upon by Schubert scholars the world over for Brian Newbouldís completion of Schubertís D840 Sonata, my initial response was one of delight in both the quality of the playing and that of the recording.

Todd Crow has made acclaimed appearances in the US and Europe, but this is the first time Iíve encountered his name on CD, and his playing is well up with the rest in my rag-bag of Schubert piano sonatas collected over the years. These include the majestic Mitsuko Uchida, the live and vibrant Alfred Brendel and, in D840 the improbably eccentric Sviatoslav Richter, all on Philips. Crow is the equal to all-comers, and while there may be a touch more legato here and a shade more poetic expression there in some of the competitors, I admire Crowís sense of drama in this ĎRelicí, and his unpretentious approach to some of Schubertís scattier passages. He plays them as written, makes no apologies, and imposes no reverential aura of mystery where none is due.

One of the nice things about hearing the Sonata D840 in this completion is that we get to hear the third and fourth movements at all. Most pianists tend to stick to the 25 minutes or so of the completed first two movements, and so we rarely hear the extraordinary Menuetto or the final, deceptively titled Rondo. Brian Newbould has written the excellent booklet notes to this CD, and explains the problems and solutions to completing the unfinished fragments. Detailed technical arguments aside, the joins are as good as seamless. Newbould takes the reasonably safe route of re-hashing Schubertís own material as much as possible by making the conclusion of the Menuetto a near palindrome of the first half, and this works very well indeed Ė straight through the Trio which Schubert did complete, and reprised according to the style of the day. The final Rondo gives a more open problem, finishing after only 300 bars in a swift 2/4 movement, and then leaving the question as to how long to go on: the further one goes, the less there is of original Schubert, but maintaining Schubertian proportions means a certain amount of substance, otherwise you are left with a truncated and malformed musical morsel. Several of Schubertís other sonatas are also unfinished, but break off just after the end of the development, leaving just the recapitulation, which autograph manuscripts and comparison with completed works show would have differed little from the original exposition. Cutting the repeat of the first section in performance helps, but Newbould has still had to add more than 6 minutes of music. His contribution starts at 4:12, and the total movement timing is 10:52. Iím sure there will be arguments for and against, and I read with interest the opinion of Paul Badura-Skoda in the 1979 Henle edition, that "Schubertís self-criticism ought to be respected, and this movement should be left out of public performances." My unscholarly opinion is that it sounds pretty good, and can now be left in.

The other main Schubert work on this disc is the Thirteen Variations on a Theme of Anselm Hüttenbrenner D576, the theme being taken from that composerís String Quartet in E Op.1. Both the rhythm of the theme and its key, A minor, are shared by the famous slow movement in Beethovenís seventh symphony, and the conjecture is that this might have been Schubertís way of expressing his affection for that work without resorting to direct reference and overt flattery. In any case, this is a fascinating set of variations which explores a wide variety of pianistic and musical textures and contrasts.

The circle which is referred to in the title of this disc is that of the brothers Hüttenbrenner, Anselm and Josef. They were natives of Graz and friends of Schubert, the younger, Josef, furthering his interests by acting as an intermediary on Schubertís behalf with publishers and promoters, also writing piano duet transcriptions of some of his orchestral works. Anselm Hüttenbrennerís Sonata in E major Op.16 is lighter in texture and content to most of Schubertís sonatas, but has plenty of lyrical charm. There are some fascinating echoes of Ďalmostí Schubert such as the opening of the second Adagio movement, and an exciting moto perpetuo movement in the final Allegro assai. Josef Hüttenbrennerís Tanz der Furien is great fun, exhibiting a whole washing list of stereotypical dramatic devices in order to conjure up a demonic atmosphere over its brief but energetic duration. The inclusion of Schubertís Deutscher D643 dance is a logical pairing, since both works appear in a fascinating manuscript on which both works appear on either side of the paper in the composersí own respective handwriting.

While the D840 Sonata and its completion is the main attraction for this release, none of the other works are mere makeweights, and both of the Hüttenbrenner works are given their first recordings here. That we should also be given such rich rewards in terms of performance and recording is a bonus, and I would say that this release is a must for all genuine Schubert fans.

Dominy Clements

Comment received

In his review of Todd Crow's performance of the Brian Newbould completion, Dominy Clements doesn't mention that Martino Tirimo recorded his own completion of this work in his EMI series (which also includes completions of all the fragments). Tirimo boldly caps the piece off by bringing back the opening theme of the first movement. It would have been nice to read about the differences between the Newbould and Tirimo completions.

My view is that this skeletal finale is not up to the level of the magnificent opening two movements and it's easy to understand why Schubert gave up where he did. CDs like these allow the listener to make up his own mind.

Jonathan Zoob


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