SCHUBERT: Duo in A for Cello and Piano D. 574; Sonata in A minor for Cello and Piano D. 821 “Arpeggione”; Fantasy in C for Cello and Piano D. 934 – Pieter Wispelwey, cello/Paolo Giacometti, fortepiano – Onyx 4046 64:36 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
The three works on this disc come from the beginning, middle, and end of Schubert’s composing career. The Violin Sonata or Duo D. 574 was composed in 1817, Schubert’s twentieth year, and so qualifies as a relatively early work, though the number 574 in the Deutsch catalog tells us that many, many pieces had come before it. Still, it breathes the same air as the popular Trout Quintet: sunny, outgoing, with a youthful exuberance that fairly bubbles over in the quicksilver presto of the Scherzo second movement.
Fast-forward ten years, and we have the Fantasy D. 934, Schubert’s greatest work for violin and piano. As with many of the compositions of Schubert’s last years, a brooding intensity haunts the work. It begins with hushed dramatic tremolos that return in the last movement, giving the piece a cyclic unity. Following the quiet opening, the first movement becomes a song without words for the cello. The second movement brings contrast in the form of a dancing scherzo that alternates minor and major key in best Schubertian fashion. The heart of the work is a long soulful slow movement that gives way to that reprise of the dramatic opening before the work ends in triumphant C major. Like others of Schubert’s fantasies, it manages to traverse a great deal of contrasting emotional territory while at the same time retaining a remarkable unity.
Then there is the “Arpeggione” Sonata of 1824, the only one of these three works regularly performed on the cello since the instrument for which Schubert wrote quickly went the way of hoop skirts and high-buttoned shoes. (The notes to this recording describe the arpeggione as a fretted instrument resembling a bowed guitar, which conjures images of Charlie Daniels sawing away at a Fender tucked under his chin.) Luckily, when Schubert’s sonata was first issued in 1871, its suitability to the cello was already understood. It’s a work of great charm and endless melodiousness, from the slightly melancholy opening in A minor to the cozy rondo finale with its fiery minor-key episodes.
The cover of this CD trumpets the recording of the Duo and Fantasy as world premieres. This is not so remarkable when one considers the arrangement of these two works was undertaken by the performer, cellist Pieter Wispelwey. So the question arises, do we have a case of carrying coals to Newcastle, or do we really have something here? I tend to think that Wispelwey has produced arrangements that shed new and interesting light on these familiar works. Somehow, the throatier voice of the cello gives these pieces a comfortable, slightly upholstered feeling that accords well with the Biedermeier world Schubert inhabited. The use of the fortepiano, beautifully played by Paolo Giacometti, accentuates this feeling.
I hope my description doesn’t sound as if I’m equivocal about this enterprise. On the contrary, I find the approach here viable to the point of revelation, and Wispelwey is nonetheless so fine a cellist that the disc would be pleasurable listening even if his arrangements were misguided. Just listen to how he negotiates the rigorous runs and double stops of the finale of the Fantasy, and you’ll agree. Few violinists could toss them off with greater aplomb.
Perhaps this well-engineered disc isn’t for everyone. Violinists and those allergic to the fortepiano may resist. But if you have a love for Schubert, a sense of adventure, and few musical prejudices, you will be amply rewarded. [Sorry to see Wispelwey leaving Channel Classics, where he had the advantage of SACD reproduction…Ed.]
– Lee Passarella