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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Complete Piano Works
Gerhard Oppitz (piano)
rec. 2007-2009, Historischer Reitstadel, Neumarkt/Oberfalz
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC HC16062 [12 CDs: 756:56]

As a ‘complete piano works’ edition, this set is comparable with Gilbert Schuchter’s set on the Tudor label (review). The Schuchter set is more expensive, but has far more extensive booklet notes and better sleeves for each disc – card slipcases, where the Hänssler set uses those tacky paper envelopes with sealed flaps that make your nice box set look like a jumble sale after a few plays. These recordings have all appeared from the Hänssler label on single discs over the years, but not all of these appear to be easily available now at standard prices. The programme for each disc has been retained, so this is a fairly straight but rather minimal repackaging.

The first thing you will notice is that the perspective of the recordings is relatively distant, certainly more so than I’ve been used to hearing in recent years. There is always a choice to be made here for engineers, balancing between a sense of the instrument in its acoustic space, and delivering enough detail for satisfying fidelity. The sound is decent enough, with a reasonably rich bass and a fair amount of definition, but my initial impression is of being one or two rows further back in the audience than the ideal listening spot. As a result the really quiet dynamics become a bit generalised in effect and the subtler details are shrouded in ambience. I’ve found these recordings less involving as a result. I normally use headphones, and playing through good speakers (I use professional studio monitors) can make this a little less problematic, but I still find the sound rather boomy in the mid-range.

The order of the programme means we get straight into some of the later sonatas in the first discs. CD 2 has the Sonata D 959, the drama of the first movement in which is rather lacking in Oppitz’s performance. The tempo is measured, but with more emphasis on rubato than forward momentum the whole thing is a rather laboured and uphill affair. The following Andantino is heavy and unsubtle in the left hand, the melody not really singing out as a result. The Scherzo is playful enough, but I’ve heard more sparkly renderings, and so by the time we come to that wonderful tune in the final Rondo our expectations are at rather a low ebb. The earlier Sonata D 157 is lighter in content but still subject to a rather heavy hand in this recording, some passages in the first movement sounding a bit like a Czerny Etude, the central Andante a pleasant enough salon waltz but without much in the way of elegance, the final Menuett supposed to be Allegro vivace but by no means danceable, rolling along rather in the manner of a WWII tank.

I’ve admired Gerhard Oppitz’s playing in the past, but at this stage in the review am already starting to worry that Schubert might not really be his ‘thing’. The repeated notes of the great final Sonata D 960 suffer a little in the first movement, the articulation sometimes smothered by the resonance in the recording. Oppitz takes this opening with a broad tempo, almost grinding to a halt at transitions such as the bars before the exposition repeat. He gives us a nicely suggestive alternative lower trill at this point, but in treading a line somewhere between genuine lyricism and gripping drama somehow manages to miss both. Not really having been gripped by the first movement, that magical Andante sostenuto needed to come up to scratch. Oppitz is rich with his sustain pedal in this movement, not opting for the pointillist layering of players like Maria João Pires (review), and seeming to slow down towards the central section after an opening which I was beginning to think could have been more sustained. He slows down again in the central section as the modulations progress and elsewhere in teeth-clenchingly frustrating gestures that raised my already unhealthy blood-pressure. The Scherzo is less controversial, moving along nicely and with relative delicatezza, but the final Allegro ma non troppo manages to be neither exciting nor much fun: Schubert perhaps cocking a snook at mortality, but Oppitz somehow managing to communicate a big mass of notes rather than something poetically hectic.

This third volume has the Moments musicaux D 780 which, as briefer musical statements with more equal left-right hand interactions, create fewer issues with interpretation. Oppitz gives the darker moods of the second Andantino and final Plaintes d’un Troubadour pieces a nicely poetic aura, and the more dance-like third Allegro moderato is decently polka-like.

Dance pieces such as the Zwei Scherzi D 593 are given plenty of verve by Oppitz, who finds plenty of lightness and twinkly wit in these waltz-rhythmed tunes. The Vier Impromptus D 935, also on CD 4, are ok, but it’s hard to make out the finer aspects of the playing with this kind or recording: you can make out the broader and bolder brushstrokes, but beyond levels of dynamic I found it hard to discern much in the way of contrast when it comes to colour and tone. CD 5 has another favourite sonata, the A minor D 845, but we’re back to sluggish tempi when it comes to the opening Moderato. Oppitz gives this movement an orchestral majesty, but with just a little more forward momentum the whole thing would have hung together more convincingly. As it is we’re as often as not ‘waiting for something to happen’, which can’t have been Schubert’s intention. There is some sense of flight in the Scherzo third movement and a playful final Rondo, but again it seems Oppitz is more relaxed and fun-filled with the works which have less of a performance tradition.

This is a tricky set on which to come down to firm conclusions, as there are clearly some finer moments to be found throughout. The urbane geniality of the Sonata D 568 is portrayed with some charm, with those little ‘sturm und drang’ contrasts giving the first movement a convincing narrative quality. There isn’t much wrong with that gorgeous tune with which the Sonata D 664 opens, and Oppitz is again alert to Schubert’s darker side in this piece, giving the music elastic expressiveness without having that feel of momentum in retreat that plagued the earlier volumes. The wonderful Andante from this sonata is also taken with admirable simplicity. Part of the appeal of this set is the recital nature of each disc, with miscellaneous works spread around throughout. Disc 9 has the surprising little Minuet in C sharp minor D 600 which is given monumental status by Oppitz. This disc ends with the 3 Klavierstücke D 459A which are a real treat in this recording, filled with little hints and references that will remind you of other Schubert works.

The Wanderer Fantasy D 760 is always a fair litmus test, and I have to admit admiring Oppitz’s full-on performance a lot. The con fuoco marking of the first movement suits his temperament, and the contrasts between high drama and tunefulness are nicely dealt with. I had another listen to Paul Lewis on Harmonia Mundi by way of comparison (review), and as another hard-hitting pianist found it interesting in the ways these two confront Schubert’s testing score. Lewis is the winner, with even greater dynamic range, heightened contrasts and ways of teasing out inner melodic content that is less apparent than with Oppitz, greater profundity in the Adagio and more musical phrasing in the final Allegro fugue. Oppitz is a solid contender however and, taken in isolation, delivers plenty of drama and satisfactorily expressive meat in this most red-blooded of works.

This alas is the conclusion that has to be drawn from time spent with this set. Gerhard Oppitz is a fine artist, and fans will find much to admire and appreciate in this Schubert collection. For each key work there is however always a raft of competing recordings that offer a touch more refinement in the playing, more clarity in the recording and a more luminous experience in general. Slow tempi aside, Gerhard Oppitz doesn’t appear to over-revere Schubert as can sometimes be the case, and the honesty and authenticity of his craftsmanship is never in question. 10 years on from their original appearance and these volumes haven’t really made that much of a mark, and if you are desperate to have all of Schubert’s piano works in a single box I would steer you gently in the direction of Michel Dalberto’s set on Brilliant Classics (review). This doesn’t have all of the answers in every work, but is of consistently high quality, has crisp and vital sonics, and those card sleeves for each disc that have the tracks listed on the back – a clincher if ever there was one.

Dominy Clements

CD 1 [63:34]
Sonate G Dur (Fantasie) Op. 78, D 894 (1827) [42:39]
Drei Klavierstücke D 946 (1828) [20:53]
CD 2 [68:17]
Sonate Op. Posth. A Dur D 959 (1828) [45:38]
Sonate E Dur D 157 (1815) [22:37]
CD 3 [79:20]
Sonate B Dur Op. Posth. D 960 (1828) [48:09]
Moments Musicaux Op. 94 D 780 (1828) [31:09]
CD 4 [71:36]
Zwei Scherzi D 593 (1817) [10:04]
Sonate E Moll D 566 (1817) [24:16]
Vier Impromptus Op. 142 D 935 (1827) [37:32]
CD 5 [66:38]
Sonate H Dur Op. 147 D 575 (1817) [25:31]
Sonata A Moll Op. 42 D 845 (1825) [40:09]
CD 6 [78:41]
Sonate C Dur (Reliquie) D 840 [30:11]
Allegretto C moll D 915 [6:19]
Impromptus D 899 [28:29]
12 Ländler Op. 171, D 790 [13:40]
CD 7 [65:51]
Sonate C Dur D 279 [19:02]
Andante C dur D29 [3:40]
Adagio G-dur D 178 [6:47]
Klavierstück A-dur D 604 [6:15]
Adagio E-dur D 612 [5:07]
Sonate A Moll Op. 164, D 537 [24:57]
CD 8 [73:59]
Sonate Es-Dur D 568 [31:58]
Fantasie c-moll D 2E [7:05]
Menuett a-moll D 277a [3:46]
Menuett A-dur D 334 [3:21]
Scherzo D-dur D 570 [3:54]
Sonate A Dur Op. 120 D 664 [23:44]
CD 9 [64:33]
Sonate As Dur D 557 [14:26]
6 Deutsche Tänze D 820 [8:18]
Menuett cis-Moll D 600 [1:12]
Marsch h-Moll D deest [3:25]
Marsch E-Dur D 606 [5:02]
Sonata E Dur D 459 [13:14]
3 Klavierstücke D 459A [18:40]
CD 10 [61:33]
Wandererfantasie Op. 15, D 760 [21:18]
Diabelli Variation D 718 [2:01]
Hüttenbrenner Variationen A Moll D 576 [14:40]
Sonate Op. 143 A Moll D 784 [23:06]
CD 11 [62:03]
Sonate Op. Posth. C Moll D 958 [32:05]
Adagio Des-Dur D 505 [3:42]
Ungarische Melodie h-Moll D 817 [4:14]
Galopp Und 8 Ecossasien Op. 49, D 735 [5:27]
Variationen F Dur D 156 [17:14]
CD 12 [65:51]
Sonate D Dur (Gasteiner) Op. 53, D 850 [45:18]
12 Valses Nobles Op. 77, D 969 [12:50]



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