SCHUBERT: Hungarian Melody, D. 817; Moments Musicaux, D. 780; Allegretto in C minor, D. 915; Drei Klavierstuecke, D. 946; March in E Major, D. 606 – Carlo Grante, piano – Music&Arts CD-1292, 71:53 (9/21/18) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Recorded in Vienna, December 2013, these essentially salon piano of Schubert reveal much of the intricate, lyric character of the composer, intimate and harmonically audacious, often relishing in those “asides” and dramatic “excursions” that justify themselves in the context of the Romantic imagination.  Carlo Grante performs upon a 1923 Boesendorfer Imperial provided by Eva and Paul Badura-Skoda, themselves master of the Schubert idiom.

Grante opens with the captivating 1824 Hungarian Melody in B minor, first introduced to this reviewer by Alfred Brendel.  Schubert would spent summers at Zseliz, teaching music to the daughters of Count Esterhazy and absorbing the flavors of Austro-Hungary.  Essentially a gypsy piece, the music enjoys a flexible, dotted rhythm and syncopations that accent the off-beat, along with grace notes. The music embraces diversions in E minor, back to the home key, and onto the modes of F-sharp. By the time of its spry coda, a warm B Major emerges, the kind of embrace that Johannes Brahms would imitate but rarely surpass.  The other “miniature” on this disc, the 1818 March in E Major, D. 606, gives us the resonant militarism of the Austro-Hungarian zeitgeist, rather mono-thematic but wrought in variegated colors.  As percussive as the piece can be, Grante invests a wry charm into its fervent cadences.

The six Moments Musicaux of 1828 did not originally exist as a unit.  Grante emphasizes the “Swiss” yodel of the opening minuet, a Moderato in C, smoothly gliding into its siciliano second theme, which sings in triplets.  The lovely Andantino in A-flat Major evolves into a five-part rondo.  Grante’s left hand intones the F-sharp minor arpeggios with studied intimacy. The choppy siciliano, too, enjoys  hesitant but palpable grace.  The familiar No. 3 in F minor, Allegro moderato, appeared in 1823 under the title “Air Russe.” The Bach influence permeates No. 4 Moderato in C-sharp minor, and its rendition by Rudolf Serkin announces my “The Music Treasury” on KZSU-FM weekly. Grante takes the piece briskly, in the manner of a two-art invention. Despite its percussive quality, Grante softens the texture, moving with suave grace into the major mode and its syncopations, adumbrating the Brahms Op. 39 Waltzes in its pliant drama. The Allegro vivace in F minor gives a binary form whose aggression might suggest Beethoven in an equestrian mode. The No. 6 in A-flat Major, Allegretto, projects a sense of tragic melancholy, despite its minuet form. The harmonic movement of the piece constantly tantalizes the ear, especially the transition from E Major back to A-flat. Curiously, almost adumbrating a gambit of Mahler, Schubert moves to A-flat minor at the coda, a rather desolate epilogue from that composer of “still fairer hopes.”

Portrait of Fanz Schubert

Franz Schubert,
by Josef Kupelwieser

The Allegretto in C minor, D. 915 (1827) first came my way via Artur Schnabel.  In 6/8, the piece evolves almost like an improvisation in the Beethoven style.  Some close imitation in the hands, a kind of canon, again pays homage to Beethoven, whose untimely death allowed Schubert to serve as one of the torch bearers. The middle section has a hesitant, chorale quality, with passing dissonances. We might well look to the Beethoven bagatelles for a counterpart, especially when this rather gentle piece builds to a fortissimo climax.

Brahms edited the three pieces that came to be known as Drei Klavierstuecke, D. 946, published some forty years after Schubert wrote them in 1828. The two outer pieces form a frame for the central piece of “heavenly length.” The first piece, Allegro assai, Grante imbues with a feral spirit, a gallop in E-flat minor that inevitably reverts to the major mode. The middle section, in B Major, Grante plays as a meditative improvisation.  The No. 2 in E-flat Major projects a kind of barcarolle character in 6/8 in a form that extends into two developed episodes. The first projects emotional turbulence in C minor, the bass line agitated in a way to suggest the Erl-Koenig.  The second “digression” after the return of the opening Allegretto proceeds fluently, marked by an eighth-note group in plastic and outwardly extending colors that move through the keyboard. The last piece, in C Major, carries a bit of virtuosic Bohemia, possibly in the manner of a dumka. The outside Allegro in syncopations surrounds a subtle section in 3/2 that seduces us in its mock-martial sensibility. Grante’s 1923 Boesendorfer makes this section alternately hum and swoon in glittering colors.

—Gary Lemco

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