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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Three Romances, Op. 28 [13:15]
Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6 [31:49]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Six Moments Musicaux, D. 780 [24:22]
Adrian Aeschbacher (piano)
rec. 1950s
KASP RECORDS 57671 [69:38]

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 [26:56]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata Fragment in E Major, D. 459 [5:47]
Adagio in C Major, D. 459A [7:17]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2 ‘Tempest’ [22:49]
Adrian Aeschbacher (piano)
rec. Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, 20 October 1954 (Schumann); 1 October 1952 (Schubert); 1950s, no venue given (Beethoven)
KASP RECORDS 57722 [66:00]

The Swiss pianist Adrian Aeschbacher (1912-2002) got his early grounding from his father Carl, a small-time choir-master and composer, before he progressed on to the conservatory in Zurich, for tuition with Emil Frey and Volkmar Andrae. It was Artur Schnabel in Berlin who put the finishing touches to his studies. In 1934 he embarked on a performing career with a repertoire that focussed on Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. Interestingly, Othmar Schoeck, Arthur Honegger, Heinrich Sutermeister and Walter Lang also featured. From 1965 until 1977 he taught at the Hochschule des Saarlandes für Musik in Saarbrücken. His commercial discography has been neglected in the CD era, which no doubt accounts for the fact that he is largely unknown today. A live airing of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Furtwängler, given at the Lucerne Festival on August 27 1947, has done the rounds. It is my only previous exposure to this pianist. These two discs, featuring recordings he set down for Deutsche Grammophon in the 1950s, are most welcome.

It is to the likes of Yves Nat, Wilhelm Kempff and Arthur Rubinstein that I turn to for fine Schumann playing. After hearing these two discs, I can add another name to that impressive roll call. Adrian Aeschbacher’s unbridled fantasy in Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze, allied with an embodiment of the extrovert and introvert sides of the composer's bipolar personality, encapsulated in the characters of Florestan and Eusebius, ensures the performance’s success. Lebaft, which opens the cycle, is upbeat and optimistic. Innig, which follows, is wistful and regretful. Mit Humour brims over with confidence, with Sehr rasch waspish and tetchy. Einfach is reflective and considered. Of the three Romances, Op. 28, the first is suffused with unalloyed romantic passion. The second, the most popular, is tender and ardent, and in the hands of Aeschbacher is a fervent love-song. No. 3 for me has always been problematic. In fact, if I am truthful and lay my cards on the table, I have always found it one of the most uninspired, unappealing and unattractive pieces in the whole piano repertoire. Even Aeschbacher fails to convince me of its virtues.

The contrasting personality traits of bold/brash with dreamy/melancholic (Florestan and Eusebius) are eloquently underlined in Aeschbacher’s reading of Fantasiestücke Op. 12, and the interaction between the two is potently realized. The eight pieces, written in 1837, take their inspiration from a collection of novellas entitled Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier by E.T.A Hoffmann. Schumann dedicated them to the Scottish pianist Anna Robena Laidlaw, with whom he had had a brief flirtation. Abends is poetically shaped, leading to Aufschwung, which makes a dramatic impact. The sense of questionning in Warum? is well-judged, but it is the spring, buoyant rhythms and sparkling finger work of Traumes Wirren which are calculated to impress.

Although composed as individual pieces over a few years, Schubert’s Moments Musicaux collectively form an attractive and popular six-movement suite. Aeschbacher's stylish and characterful playing hits the target spot on. Judicious pedalling, taking care not to smudge the harmonies, is another compelling feature, as is the attainment of a multifarious palette of colour. Listen to the way he exquisitely voices the chords in No. 2, titled Andante. There is a playful lightness in the F minor (No. 3), whilst No. 5 has a propulsive vigour. I like No. 6 for its reserved containment; the music is not permitted to degenerate into sentimentality. The Sonata Fragment and Adagio are particularly valued for their rarity. Aeschbacher’s performance of the latter is a lesson for all pianists in sensitive dynamic control and achievement of luminous tonal hues.

We are told in the booklet notes that the pianist performed a complete cycle of Beethoven’s thirty-two piano sonatas in Zurich in the 1958-1959 season, next repeating them in other cities. Listening to his recording of the Tempest Sonata makes one wish he had taken the complete cycle into the studio. Like his teacher, Schnabel, he has an instinctive grasp of structure and architecture of the work, and he certainly whips up some ecstatic intensity in the faster sections of the opening movement. The Adagio is eloquently contoured and nobly refined, and the finale conjures up the image of a horse galloping past a window.

Donald Isler, producer of Kasp records, has a personal connection with the pianist. Aeschbacher taught his father Werner Isler. The Swiss pianist used to practice on Werner’s parent’s Bechstein in Berlin in the early days, and gave the young boy lessons. Donald Isler got permission from Deutsche Grammophon to reissue these recordings, which have been superbly remastered by Joseph Patrych. These two releases have been a labour of love, and a wonderful discovery for me.

Stephen Greenbank

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