In this era of "authentic" performance the description fortepiano is used
both widely and loosely. It is a well-intentioned term indicating that it
is an early post-harpsichord but pre-modern instrument. Perhaps somewhere
between Haydn and Chopin would be a good rule of thumb. The instrument used
here however is a six-octave Square Piano of 1832 manufactured by Clementi
who apart from composing and giving concerts had investments in the
instrument-making company bearing his name. Since the works were composed
not too many years before the manufacture of the instrument and square pianos
were used extensively during this period, it seems an excellent choice and
it certainly has a fullness of tone superior to instruments of the 1790s.
It is interesting to note that Katin (who provides his own notes) explains
that he sometimes had to re-think the phrasing that he had applied to Schubert's
music when previously using a modem piano.
The three extensive movements entitled Drei Klavierstucke make, in
effect, a three-movement sonata more than half an hour in length (if one
is not too fussy about key-sequence) and it is interesting to hear how exciting
the stronger passages become in Katin's hands. This old piano stays remarkably
in tune (the occasional clattering noises from the action are only to be
expected). Katin's delightful subtlety in the Valses Nobles would
perhaps have been enhanced given a more spacious sound but his mature reading
of the Moments Musicaux is full of insight although, because of the
clear, forward sound, Katin's tiny rhythmic subtleties in the well-known
No.3 seem strangely obvious.
The Impromptus imply a grander scale and are therefore more demanding
for the period piano. In the event, the firm, clear but very light bass of
the instrument does not pose a problem in itself because so many of these
works are of a flowing nature. The very first work (D899 in C minor) does
have slow, spaced chords at the start and here the bare acoustic does seem
to hinder the progress. This apart, Katin has a penetrating sense of shape
and form. Gentle rubato is applied but it never interrupts the musical current
(the elegant liquid runs in the A flat minor D 899 remind me of the famous
old Schnabel version).
The recorded sound is very close and not very resonant. Maybe this technique
was chosen in order to clarify the tonal characteristics of an historic
instrument but it reveals an occasional mid-range "ring" in the powerful
passages - especially in Valses Nobles Nos. 5 & 9 which are both happen
to be in the key of A minor. Another result of this immediacy of sound is
that the dynamics seem a little limited - most noticeably in the grander
Impromptus. At a soiree in a 19th Century drawing room, Schubert's music
may well have sounded like this. This is authentic music-making and stylish
pianism but the bloom of a concert hall acoustic would have been welcome.