SCHUBERT: 4 Impromptus, D. 899; 4 Impromptus, D. 935; Allegretto in C Minor, D. 915 – Artur Schnabel, piano – EMI

by | Jul 1, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUBERT: 4 Impromptus, D. 899; 4 Impromptus, D. 935;
Allegretto in C Minor, D. 915 – Artur Schnabel, piano – EMI Classics 5
86833 2, 61:44****:

The reissue of the 1950 Schubert Impromptus by Artur Schnabel
(1882-1951) certainly brings back a slew of memories, since the
Electrola LP of this inscription was the first import I owned on
record. Silesian by birth but Viennese and German by nurture, Schnabel
cultivated the Austro-Hungarian tradition in his early, virtuoso days,
only to narrow his repertory down later to a small coterie: Bach,
Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Schumann, Dvorak, and Brahms, with an
occasional appearance by Weber. A pupil of Theodor Leschetizky,
Schnabel cultivated a non-percussive piano sound that always placed
music above sheer virtuosity. Some of his detractors, like Moritz
Rosenthal, would augment the last statement by adding that Schnabel had
to emphasize music over digital execution: no fingers!

The eight Schubert impromptus bring out the noble quality of Schnabel’s
lucid, arched singing line, a combination of directness, simplicity,
and instrumental vocalization. If the opening C Minor Impromptu enjoys
a plastic, fluid line, so do the E-flat and A-flat, with their
pre-Chopin Etude running figures, sustain their momentum while evoking
a silken, soft pulse at cadences. Schnabel’s capacity to project the
harmonic drama in Schubert is no less defined, as we can hear in the F
Minor (D. 935, 1), A-flat, and B-flat. The infrequent Allegretto in C
Minor inscription dates from January 1939, and it has something of the
nimble disingenuousness of Beethoven’s late bagatelles, one set of
which, the Op. 119, ought to be restored to Schnabel’s active catalogue
with all due speed. Digital remastering by Andrew Walter is first-rate,
revealing a harder patina in Schnabel’s Bechstein than I recalled from
my LP days.

–Gary Lemco

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