BEETHOVEN Piano Works Vol. 10 = Rondo in A; Minuet in E-flat;
Bagatelles, Op. 33; Six Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 34; Eroica
Variations in E-flat, Op. 35; Fantasia in G Minor, Op. 77; Bagatelle in
a Minor “Fur Elise”
Artur Schnabel, piano
Naxos 8.110764 79:29 ****:
Having completed his survey of the Beethoven sonatas for the Beethoven
Sonata Society, Artur Schnabel (1882-1951) began recording diverse solo
piano works and variations, pieces Beethoven had written for both
amateurs and professionals. The same warm, lucid, sonic patina that
marks Schnabel’s Schubert is evident in his 1937-1938 readings of the
“small” Beethoven – although such an epithet does not apply to the Op.
35 Variations and Fugue, which prefigures the Eroica Symphony. The
Schnabel magic can be heard in the little Menuet in E-flat, WoO 82 as
well as in the various Op. 33 Bagatelles, like the A Major (No. 4) with
its rolling arpeggios. Some interesting modulations in No. 5 in C
Major, wittily presented. In the last Bagatelle, the A-flat Major,
Schnabel’s often emotional temper seems to run away with his control.
The Fantasia in G Minor, recorded 1937, aside from aspects of the late
sonatas and the wild Fantasy in C Minor Op. 80, gives us a strong
glimpse of Beethoven’s improvisational style. Schnabel’s reading is a
bit softer in contour than that of his colleague Edwin Fischer.
The Op. 34 Variations in F possess a fascinating structure, based on
Beethoven’s descending a third at each variation until we reach C
Minor, then heading to the home key for variant six. Collectors
might compare Schnabel’s relaxed vision of the Op. 34 to the more
frenetic set recorded by Claudio Arrau in 1941 (Naxos 8.110603).
Schnabel’s is the gentler virtuosity. For all of the affective
differences and ideas about rhythmic license, the Arrau and Schnabel
Eroica Variations differ in total length by only a few seconds. Both
cast the progression of the theme in monolithic terms. Restoration
engineer Mark Obert-Thorn has maintained a luster and sonorous
mid-range in Schnabel’s piano tone, and the surfaces are singularly
quiet. I did ask Mr. Obert-Thorn about Schnabel’s elusive recording of
the Bagatelles Op. 119, but it seems the copyright on that extends to
the point where I might welcome a pirate’s initiative.