SCHUBERT: Marches militaries, D. 733; Variations on an Original Theme in A-flat Major, D. 813; Grand Duo in C Major, D. 812 – Daniel Barenboim and Radu Lupu, piano – Warner Classics 2564 696570, 77:05 [Distrib. by www.warnerclasicsandjazz/maestro] ****:
Recorded at the Teldec Studio Berlin in 1996, the duets by Schubert for piano four hands with Barenboim and Lupu usher in thoughts on another age entirely, the Biedermeier Period of drawing-room music and domestic keyboard repertory. But Schubert’s efforts for the Esterhazy family transcend their salon antecedents, and the three Military Marches of 1818 remain perhaps the most famous four-hand pieces in music. Pearly and buoyant, these pieces move from their respective fanfares into lyrically dactylic progressions of eminently vocal character. If the D Major is the most popular of the set, the E-flat Major that concludes it retains the pomp and infectious Viennese lilt in grand style.
The mood of the disc becomes more serious with the Variations on an Original Theme in A-flat from 1824, when Schubert resided at Zseliz in what is now Slovakia. The Allegretto theme owes debts to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony second movement; the second movement of the Death and the Maiden Quartet likewise assimilates the tragic march pulse as its thematic kernel. The variations proceed from the decorative to the boldly audacious, especially in the chromatic lines that take us into exotic modalities. The aggressive syncopations require no small degree of coordination and technical bravura from our two principals. The last three variants explore weirdly modal territory–some of which adumbrates Liszt and Moussorgsky–before the triumphant coda’s unabashed virtuosity brings this monument to a thunderous close.
The big work in every sense is the 1824 Sonata in C Major Grand Duo, a “symphonic” colossus that raises the level of four-hand writing several fold. The individual parts challenge each player to contribute a balanced sonata, the equivalent of mastering the late sonatas, with their particular intricacies. Echo effects, fughettas, tremolandi, trills, open-work filigree, and hugely spanned block chords abound, while the tensile strength of the melodic line must not falter. The influence of both Beethoven’s Archduke Trio and the Larghetto of the Symphony No. 2 have been noted often. Lupu and Barenboim make an excellent case for our desire to hear this splendidly broad work in concert. Kudos to the recording producer and recording engineer, Martin Fouque and Eberhard Sengpiel, respectively, for exemplary piano sound.