Impromptus, Songs and Consolations
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Impromptus op. 90, D899 (1827) [31:01]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Transcriptions of Franz Schubert songs (1837/8) [24:59]
Consolations S172 (1849) [19:03]
Viacheslav Apostel-Pankratowsky (piano)
rec. 2018/2019, Leipzig
GENUIN GEN20556 [75:12]
This is, I believe Viacheslav Apostel-Pankratowsky’s debut recording. I learned from the biography on the Genuin website that “He is a Moscow native, pianist who received extensive musical training starting at a very early age. In 2006 Apostel-Pankratowsky was accepted into the post-graduate piano program at the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig. Since November 2017 he has been working as a piano teacher and coach at the Musikschule Salle-Orla in Bad Lobenstein; he also regularly gives concerts”. On his own website the pianist quotes Vladimir Horovitz and his words seem appropriate here “Playing the piano consists of reason and technical means. Everything should be developed equally. Without reason you are a fiasco, without technology an amateur, without heart a machine”. By and large, I feel that
Apostel-Pankratowsky succeeds in this repertoire which also makes for an interesting programme.
The cosmopolitan and deeply patriotic Hungarian Franz Liszt is very different from the quintessential, unpretentious, impecunious and largely unsuccessful Franz Schubert. The two couldn't have been more unlike in terms of the lives that they led, but I was fascinated to read in the notes by Anna-Barbara Schmid, that they could conceivably have met in Vienna, although Liszt was only 17 when Schubert died at the tragically early age of 31. As Sacheverell Sitwell observes (Liszt, Cassell & Co, 1955), “Schubert and Liszt are a particularly happy chapter in the immense chronicle of Liszt’s works. It was a music which recalled the days of his own earliest youth, when he left his native Hungary for Vienna and stayed there breathing the same air as Beethoven and Schubert, studying with Salieri who had been the rival of Mozart.” Sitwell states “it is, at least, certain that [Liszt and Schubert] actually met, for he was introduced to him by Randhartinger”. Bernard Randhartinger (1800-1893) was certainly an acquaintance, perhaps even a friend, of Schubert but he’d claimed to be at school with him, although he actually arrived after Schubert left. Schubert's works were always an inspiring, "magnificent treasure" to Liszt, which he was very fond of sharing with the world. The later set of Four “Impromptus” D935 was published in 1839 and dedicated to Liszt This took place posthumously at the hand of the renowned publisher Anton Diabelli, of Variations fame. As is recognised, Liszt was a Schubert advocate wherever possible. On concert tours, he always had Schubert's music with him, including many lieder as piano transcriptions. The aim of this debut CD is for Apostel-Pankratowsky to trace this artistic alliance. It’s an interesting concept for an album avoiding the more popular coupling of the later Impromptus, which might have been appropriate in view of the Liszt dedication, and possibly also the Drei Klavierstücke D 946.
Apostel-Pankratowsky plays the very familiar and heavily recorded first set of Impromptus and does so with considerable skill and empathy for the music. No one listening to these wonderful works for the first time through these performances will be disappointed but I’m afraid that there are so many great pianists who have recorded these works, some like Brendel several times, that it’s a harsh reality that he isn’t yet in that class. I’ve every confidence that he will attain this level in due course. However, I particularly liked the final Impromptu in A flat and would certainly have enjoyed hearing this pianist live. The transcriptions of the Schubert songs seem to me very successful. He is very powerful in the “Barcarolle” (To sing upon the water) which takes us on a gondola ride but across a rather stormy lagoon. I was taken by the arrangement of “Hark, hark the lark” and it certainly shows Liszt’s skills at transcribing the songs to piano. The famous “Gretchen am Spinnrad” is based on part of Goethe’s “Faust”, such an inspiration for composers up to Mahler - a natural successor to Schubert. Whilst lovers of the original songs may demur and whilst I appreciate the qualities of Schubert’s songs sung by the likes of Fischer-Dieskau and Janet Baker, I feel like the subject of Keats’ poem “On First Looking into Chapman's Homer” that I don’t understand the native language. These transcriptions are beautifully composed and I very much enjoyed the playing here. There’s the lovely Viennese lilt of “Ständchen", D889, followed by “Ave Maria” which always evokes that memorable final scene in “Fantasia”. Apostel-Pankratowsky has chosen a very suitable selection of the song transcriptions. The recital is rounded off with the “Consolations” composed after Chopin’s premature demise and upon Liszt’s retirement as a virtuoso performer. They are very different from what I’m used to expect from Liszt and as the notes point out, they are lyrically expressive in character, whilst expressing emotion with finely wrought piano-writing. I don’t know these works very well although I do have them in a complete Philips set of recordings by Alfred Brendel. They are very thoughtfully played; this is clearly a pianist who has a very promising future. As well as the notes, biography and interesting photos, the project is successful with an admirably clear recorded sound.
Overall, I enjoyed this disc considerably and found the more unfamiliar works particularly interesting. I hope that Apostel-Pankratowsky will consider, in particular, more Schubert transcriptions.
David R Dunsmore