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SCHUBERT: Impromptu in A-flat Major; Sonata in c minor – Luisa Guembes-Buchanan, p. – Del Aguila

A much-respected pedagogue performs Schubert in a manner thoroughly sympathetic to the Viennese style.

SCHUBERT: Impromptu in A-flat Major, D. 899, No. 4; Sonata in c minor, D. 958 – Luisa Guembes-Buchanan, p. – Del Aguila DA 55312, 40:00 [L4muse@comcast.net] ****:

Pianist Luisa Guembes-Buchanan enjoys a reputation as an able pedagogue and Professor of Piano who has volunteered for more than 15 years at the “Summer School Wust” in Germany, an inspirer especially of young students of that instrument from the new “Länder” in central Germany. She has recorded the complete Beethoven piano sonatas and lectured extensively on the significance of the late sonatas. This all-Schubert disc, featuring Ms. Guembes-Buchanan’s artistry on a Fazioli instrument, was recorded in Cambridge, MA in 2015.

The Schubert A-flat Major Impromptu of 1828 receives a fluent and vibrant reading: from its opening a-flat minor, the music progresses, Allegretto, in ¾, with felicity and assurance. The pianist prepares us, through canny pedal, lyrical runs, and adjusted dynamics, for the transition into c-sharp minor, where Schubert plays his wonted enharmonic tricks with the melodic tissue. The slightly disruptive repetition of minor seconds in the designated Trio section achieves a sonorous turn via the Fazioli’s special particular action. The famous “cello melody” becomes quite hypnotic, and I often mused to my first encounter with this magical work via the piano craft of Artur Schnabel.

Many commentators have likened the 1828 c minor Sonata, D. 958 to aspects in dark-hued Beethoven, especially his 32 Variations in c minor, WoO 80. The music of Schubert, however, assumes a more improvisatory demeanor than that of the Beethoven opus, with the often anguished opening material’s finding some consolation in E-flat Major.  Yet Schubert prefers the torment of the initial idea for musical development, and the music assumes a grim, sometimes martial resolve. Ms. Guembes-Buchanan does not overly dramatize this potent movement but she does realize the music as a persuasive, highly personal drama. No less intimate, the Adagio proceeds as a kind of melancholy rondo that begins in four-part harmony in A-flat Major. A sad ostinato figure dominates much of the hymn, from which two interludes emerge – one quite contrapuntal – that lead to a string of modulations and a disarmingly simple coda that Fazioli renders diaphonously.

The nervous laendler that constitutes the Menuetto Allegro proceeds in c minor, rather dark for an Austrian dance.  The Trio assumes a more traditional gentility, although our sense of security seems tenuous. The last movement Allegro from its first measures reveals a manic gallop, a pseudo-tarantella that heads to a personal abyss. A series of jarring accents becomes alternately playful and demonic as Schubert evolves its idiosyncratic journey. In many respects the playing here reminds me much of Lili Kraus, another alert, intelligent, and sensitive Schubert acolyte. When the music softens, its voicing has the haunted quality of Der Erkoenig as he seduces the young lad.  How tightly Schubert has woven this mortal coil, and yet the intertwining of Death and Beauty has rarely captivated us so completely. The warm acoustic of the Brinkmann Room, Cambridge, and the instrument, has been captured spaciously by Patrick Lo Re.

—Gary Lemco

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