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Fantasia in F minor, D.940 Op.103 (1828) [18:06]
Variations sur un thème original in A flat major, D.813 Op.35 (1824)
Rondo in A major, D.951 Op.107 (1828) [11:38]
Duo in A minor (Lebensstürme), D.947 Op. posth. 144 (1828)
Irena Kofman, André de Groote (piano)
rec. May 2008, Sint-Vincentius-Chappel, Ghent.
TALENT DOM 2911 119 [64:43]
It’s a bit unfortunate that this release has to go up against
another Schubert piano duet disc, that with Paul Lewis, Steven
Osborne on Hyperion
CDA67665. Oleg Ledeniov’s review
of this disc was generally positive and sympathetic, but the
Hyperion CD does rather seal the deal of this release struggling
to achieve ‘top-notch recommendation’ status.
Taken in isolation this Talent release is actually rather good
for most of its duration. The Fantasia in F minor D940 is
played with a nice touch. It doesn’t have quite the lyrical
charm of Lewis/Osborne, but most of the ingredients are present,
including the stormy drama and wide dynamic contrasts. The storms
are sometimes a good deal slower than with Osborne/Lewis, and
this results in a timing a good two and a half minutes longer.
I suppose the whole thing might be called ‘chunky’ rather than
flowing, but this is a relative rather than a pejorative term
– I can imagine there might be those who prefer the less overtly
elegant approach of Kofman/de Groote, but their more solid phrasing
does create a different, somewhat less magical atmosphere, and
for me ultimately a less attractive one.
The Variations sur un thème original in A flat major D813
is another direct confrontation with the Osborne/Lewis team,
and pretty much the same story applies when comparing. Kofman
and de Groote are heavy and forthright from the start; the lightness
and wit of Osborne/Lewis is preferable. There is a nice touch
in the variations, and taken in isolation this again is a performance
which will give pleasure. When doing an A/B comparison it is
always the Hyperion disc which comes up trumps however, contrasting
swiftness as well as transparency where the present duo keep
a fairly steady and less forward-moving momentum. If this were
a concert performance I wouldn’t feel so bad about having fallen
asleep: even where the variations generate a certain amount
of excitement the clarity of inner line and witty inflections
of Osborne/Lewis keep up far more interest.
With a misprint in the booklet, the Rondo in A major D951
follows rather than Lebensstürme, which concludes
the programme. I quite like Kofman and de Groote’s quiet restraint
in this Rondo, and with the recording bringing out good
sonority in the lower range of the instrument Schubert’s intriguing
harmonies come through well. Lebensstürme is a tricky
piece to bring off really magnificently, and there are numerous
questions which can be resolved satisfactorily in absolute musical
terms, but which in hindsight might not have been such a good
idea. For instance, do you make much of a ritenuto at
the end of the first statement, like Kofman/deGroote, or do
you just ‘round it off’ and push onwards like Osborne/Lewis?
I’m afraid once this ponderous change of gear was introduced
in the first statement there didn’t seem to be much hope left
for the piece taking flight ever again in this recording, and
the feeling of lugubrious wading through sticky toffee is never
entirely dispelled. The driving syncopations which need to kick
out and become subsumed beneath that heavenly second subject
are always an uphill drag. The perception of getting slower
hangs over the entire performance like a dark brown velvet drape.
There are nice touches in the exchanges between players and
the playing is technically highly proficient, but I have an
uneasy feeling about the whole thing, and going back to Osborne/Lewis
is like coming up for air.
This is a very nicely recorded CD, and I have little doubt that,
Lebensstürme perhaps excepted, I would in all likelihood
have received this release rather more warmly if I hadn’t had
the Hyperion recording poking its nose in at every point and
saying ‘no, not like that, like this’. Irena Kofman and
André de Groote clearly have a good synergy as duo partners,
and they make a finely balanced and rich sound. The piano is
placed in a perfect sounding resonance, pleasantly spacious,
detailed and ringing without being at all swimmy or fatiguing.
As a former record shop employee I would however be pointing
out the Hyperion disc has by far the preferable recording in
identical repertoire. With its extra bonus pieces this choice
is alas a no-brainer.
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