Classical CD Reviews

ARTUR SCHNABEL: Piano Quintet; 3 Pieces; Piano Sonata; 3 Fantasy Pieces for Piano, Violin, and Viola; 11 Lieder; 7 Lieder – Sibylle Kamphues, alto/ Irmela Roelcke, p./ Pellegrini Q. – cpo (2 CDs)

Surprisingly fine music from one of the greatest pianists who ever lived.

Published on October 16, 2013

ARTUR SCHNABEL: Piano Quintet; 3 Pieces; Piano Sonata; 3 Fantasy Pieces for Piano, Violin, and Viola; 11 Lieder; 7 Lieder – Sibylle Kamphues, alto/ Irmela Roelcke, p./ Pellegrini Q. – cpo (2 CDs)

ARTUR SCHNABEL: Piano Quintet; 3 Pieces, Op. 15; Piano Sonata; 3 Fantasy Pieces for Piano, Violin, and Viola; 11 Lieder, Op. 11; 7 Lieder, Op. 14 – Sibylle Kamphues, alto/ Irmela Roelcke, p./ Pellegrini Quartet – cpo 777 471 (2 CDs), 153:28 [Distr. by Naxos] ***½:

For most people, Schnabel will always be primarily a great pianist, and one who still defines for many the way that the sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert should sound. But he was also an active composer, whose work was so important to him that he cut back drastically in concert activities in 1920 in order to devote most of his time to it. Yet posterity has pretty much ignored his accomplishments, even though occasionally his music does show up on recitals and recordings. CPO has devoted a lot of time to him, and on this latest release we get to hear a recent discovery, and a number of pieces that show his development as a composer in different styles.

Only in the summer of 2001 was a complete manuscript of the Piano Quintet found, sent anonymously to a Schnabel festival by an unknown address from the United States. The piece has its origins in 1915, and reflects an expanded and neo-romantic viewpoint that tends to meander and feel overdrawn in many places, especially the rather bland first movement. One cannot fault the Pellegrini Quartet though, as they played with persuasion and passion in a work that offers it secrets—or lack of—with great duress. The two sets of lieder are fine romantic examples in the style of Brahms, sung with great affection by alto Sibylle Kamphues, who is able to transmit the highly colorful music into fine expression and wonderful tonal allure.

But to me the most effective and affecting pieces here are the purely instrumental ones, and spanning three different aesthetics. The Three Fantasy Pieces remind me of the music of Chausson, romantic, narrowly impressionistic, and quite flowing. The early Three Piano Pieces with their descriptive titles “Rhapsody”, “Night Picture”, and “Waltz”, are wonderful depictions of what might be termed a “high” parlor style, something designed to trick the listener into thinking they are getting one thing, while elevating the experience into quite another. And the 1923 Piano Sonata, perhaps Schnabel’s masterpiece, rich in invention and passionately involved in a unique style that is hard to peg to any one influence, defines the composer’s creative bent and determination to write music as he felt it and not as others felt it should go.

All the performances here are as good as one could wish for, and the sound is fully up to cpo’s generally high standards. It’s not for everyone and can hardly be considered an acquisition that is necessary to any general collection, but it is of historical value and no little musical value as well.

—Steven Ritter




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