Artur SCHNABEL (1882-1951)
Drei Klavierstücke op.15 [22:39]
Drei Fantasiestücke [10:11]
Zehn Lieder op.11 
Sieben Lieder op.14 [17:46]
Irmela Roelcke (piano)
Sibylle Kamphues (alto)
rec. Siemensvilla, Berlin, 16-20 June 2008, 2-6 February 2009
CPO 777 471-2 [77:27 + 76:01]
CPO are to be commended for their enterprising ventures in making available
music by unknown and unsung composers. Their endeavours in this field have
occasionally thrown up a few surprises. I am thinking specifically about their
championing of compositions by well known artists whose fame has, in the minds
of many, been confined to their performing skills in the concert hall. I have
heard very fine music composed by the conductors Felix Weingartner and Bruno
Walter. Here we have some compositional offerings by the Austrian pianist
Artur Schnabel, who was described by the music critic Harold C. Schonberg
as ‘the man who invented Beethoven’.
It is ironic that, as a pianist, Schnabel was averse to performing contemporary
music, yet his own compositions are firmly set in the modern idiom.
He was a musician rather than just a pianist, and he regarded himself
primarily as a composer, an area where he could exercise his intellect
and probing mind. Besides the works included here, his catalogue includes
three symphonies, five string quartets and many smaller compositions.
Whilst complex and difficult, they are marked by an originality of style.
The Piano Quintet was written in 1915-16 and premiered in Berlin on
2 June 1918 at a benefit concert for German war refugees. After that
the manuscript went off the radar, only to re-emerge in 2001. At 54
minutes this a large, loosely-constructed work, bordering on atonality,
but having a key signature. Schnabel displays great skill in the instrumental
writing. The first movement is orchestral in character. The centre of
gravity is the second movement adagio. There is great beauty in the
writing but even after repeated listening, I found the various sections
rather disjointed and the movement, as a whole, rambling. The character
of the third movement is carefree, with dance elements abounding. The
Pellegrini-Quartett play with great commitment.
The Drei Klavierstücke op.15 (1906) are firmly rooted in tonality.
They are exquisitely performed by Irmela Roelcke. I was particularly
taken by the third movement four-part waltz. These pieces ought to be
taken up more by pianists. Similarly, the Drei Fantasiestücke fur
Klavier, Violine und Viola which showcases Schnabel’s melodic
gifts. In this Roelcke is joined by Antonio Pellegrini (violin) and
Fabio Marano (viola). The captivating third movement ‘Andantino’
is almost ‘salon’ in character, tinged with a sentimentality.
In 1923, Schnabel composed his Piano Sonata, one of his most highly
original and inventive scores. It is in five movements, for each of
which Schnabel gives specific instructions as to its individual character.
There are no bar-lines and no key signatures. The tempo is free, and
he allows the musical ideas to flow and emerge. Firmly ensconced in
atonality, it is dissonant and hard-edged in parts. Once again, Roelcke
delivers a captivating performance, and shows clearly that she has a
deep love for this music.
In the two song-cycles op.11 and op.14, Schnabel sought out texts from
popular contemporary poets. Here there is a continuity with the tradition
of German romantic lieder, and the influences of Schubert and Brahms
can be detected. The alto Sibylle Kamphues offers compelling performances.
The artists are to be commended for championing Schnabel’s work.
The Siemensvilla Berlin provides an admirable acoustic. The booklet
notes are informative and well-written.
As one who greatly admires Artur Schnabel as a pianist in the works
of Beethoven and Schubert, I am grateful that I have had the experience
of listening to him as a composer. There is no doubt that there are
some good things here. Well worth exploring.
Little-known repertoire. Well worth exploring.