Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Four Impromptus, Op. 90, D899 (1827) [27:57]
Four Impromptus, Op. 142, D935 (1827) [37:02]
Ecossaises, D871 [4:20]
Michel Dalberto (piano)
rec. 1991-1993, Corseaux, Switzerland (venue not specified); remastered 2011. DDD

As well as seventeen sonatas, some of which have survived only as fragments, Schubert wrote a large number of shorter pieces for the piano. Some of the more substantial of these were collected into sets, and were published variously as Impromptus, Moments Musicaux, or the catch-all title of Klavierstücke. The French pianist Michel Dalberto here plays the Impromptus D899 and D935, together with the rarely recorded Ecossaises, D781.
The first of the D899 begins in dramatic fashion; Dalberto gives the following pause its full weight. The quiet, questing phrases are volleyed back in more assertive fashion, creating a complex and volatile mood. The dynamics are strongly contrasted. There’s a pleasantly metallic character to the left hand at forte and above, and the voicing is precise. The perpetuum mobile second movement is played with very little rubato, but the tempo is well chosen and never becomes rigid. In the third piece the notes in the rapid accompanying figure are played with more detachment than is usual. The arpeggio figure in the final piece is finely articulated, and the long crescendo is carefully built to a cry of anguish.
D935 also begins in arresting fashion, giving way to a more luminous episode. This movement in particular creates an impression of spaciousness; Dalberto’s subtle rubato gives the music time for reflection. The minuet tune in the following movement has an innocent character, while the arpeggio-dominated trio unfolds very naturally. The variations on the “Rosamunde” theme in the next movement are all well contrasted. They range in mood from incipient tragedy to an insouciance that recalls the trout of Schubert’s eponymous song, D550 and piano quintet D667. The flexibility of the tempo adopted in the finale again impresses, with Dalberto playing the repeated octave figure with just enough freedom. There is a delicate wash of pedal on the rapid figures leading back into the return of the opening theme. The eleven Ecossaises, D781, and the single Ecossaise, D 782, that finish the disc are charming trifles, most being of about twenty seconds in length. Dal Segno conscientiously bands each one. These are crisply dispatched.
Maria João Pires recorded these Impromptus with the little Allegretto, D915, and the great Klavierstücke D946, in 1997. She is slower than Dalberto by about a minute in the first piece of D899 and the last of D935. Pires has obviously pondered these pieces at length, and plays them with great affection. Her interpretations emphasise the inward qualities that this music abundantly possesses. After Dalberto’s more direct address, however, I found her approach a little bit underpowered.
Dalberto’s Schubert is consistently convincing. In common with those other great Schubertians Kempff, Michelangeli and Richter, the music always has a sense of a journey made. Like Richter, too, he spins a wonderful legato at piano and below, and his playing has similar reserves of concentration and refinement. Dalberto’s voicing has a clarity that recalls Michelangeli, while he avoids the rigidity that Michelangeli or Richter could fall into. Add to this a sense of drama not always found in Kempff or Pires, and you have a Schubertian of unusual completeness.

Guy Aron

Dalberto renders the full spectrum of Schubert’s moods with clarity and humanity.