Franz SCHUBERT: Die Nacht – Anja Lechner (cello) Pablo Marquez (guitar) – ECM New Series 2555, 56:20 (11/30/18): ****:

It would be difficult to find anyone to play the Arpeggione Sonata on the original instrument for which it was written; the viol-shaped bowed guitar never caught on and faded into oblivion in the decades following Schubert’s death. It was natural for the cello to take over the part. This exquisite work, which comes from the composer’s final period and belongs to that run of masterpieces which included the last sonatas and the cello quintet, is a substantial work in the repertoire of 19th-century cello sonatas.  Yet other transcription have been tried; violin, bass viola for the arpeggione and orchestral versions of the piano part. However, the latter seems odd given the intimacy of the piece.

In this ECM release, we are presented with a plausible and rewarding rendition of this sonata and other Schubert pieces arranged for guitar and cello. We are truly off the concert stage and situated in the Viennese salon on these introspective pieces which make up a recital appropriately titled Die Nacht after one the songs from the Winterreise. The recital also features three works by Friedrich Burgmuller, a near contemporary with Schubert, scored for guitar and cello. These tranquil pieces lack for nothing in design and articulation. They stay nicely on the right side of the sentient/sentimentality divide. If anything, they are politely soporific in the best sense, expressive of and conducive to sleep.

If you have not heard the Arpeggione Sonata in a while (or ever), I urge you to give it your undivided attention. This performance is simultaneously musically instructive and aesthetically bountiful. The private language of this unparalleled musical genius is both mastered and ably communicated. At the same time, the guitar makes a strong case for being the perfect accompaniment.

It is a wonder that guitarist Pablo Marquez is able to get the highly involved Lied  accompaniment of the other pieces under his fingers. The exception is both the simplest strangest piece on the record. Der Leiermann (gurdy man) evokes a Middle Eastern mode with droning strings and modest antiphonal pluckings. It is a spellbinding four minutes. Fischerweise is a cheerful ramble in which Marquez manages to keep both registers jogging along. Owing to the natural balance of the instruments, the cello carries more weight than the guitar. This accentuates the lyrical essence of the music, which gains at the expense of some of the harmonic argument usually supplied by the piano. It is a lyricism without much emphasis, however. The muted placidity and predictable shifts from delicate allegretto to somber adagio makes one hanker for one of those cloudbursts or the rapture of chaotic dissonance that one finds in the last sonatas. I usually stare straight into the Void, thoroughly mesmerized, listening to Schubert, but certain moments of this recital prompted a t typically modern case of the fidgets.

Still I must express unqualified admiration for the sound engineering and the perfect accord of these musicians. ECM New Series represents a high achievement in this sort of chamber music if you like a rather “wet,” reverberant sound. The lower register of the cello is almost indulgently buttery. Single notes on the guitar have layers of bloom. The guitar entry to a clever arrangement of Romanze from Rosamunde manages the thump of the bass before sliding into the agreable orchestral strumming. The finale, Nocturne Nr. 1, is the Burgmuller piece that could most pass for Schubert. It upholds the autumnal mood of revery and evanescence which is at the heart of Schubert’s chamber music.  A very fine debut by this duo– it leaves us wishing for a follow-up. The one Lied from Winterreise suggest  mere landfall on an inviting continent which is yet to be explored. We would gladly entrust this duo with what we would be a bold conquest in the service of instrumental transcriptions.

-Fritz Balwit