Philippe Entremont fulfills a personal project to record the Schubert keyboard music he most treasures.
SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata No. 21 in B-flat Major, D. 960; Fantasie in f minor for Piano, Four hands, D. 940; Marche militaire in D Major, D. 733, No. 1 – Philippe Entremont, piano/ Gen Tomuro, piano – Solo Musica SM 276, 68:42 (2/2/18) [Distr. by Sony] ****:
Sometime around 1980 I met and spoke to Philippe Entremont (b. 1934) after a recital at the Atlanta Fox Theater, during which I mentioned how appropriate I thought his tone and touch would suit the music of Schubert. “I dearly love Schubert,” Entremont replied, “but I have yet to address him in the recording studio.” Now, almost 40 years later, Entremont fulfills his own, long-deferred project to record Schubert’s music for posterity. He chooses as his major work Schubert’s late (1828) Sonata in B-flat Major, the last of a triptych that testify to something like Schubert’s inner compulsion to express himself in the form. The already expansive first movement Molto moderato assumes even greater breadth with Entremont’s taking the repeat. A realization of Schubert’s sensitivity to loss, the music interrupts the opening statement with a disturbed trill on G-flat that rests on F, and its second subject evolves in the key of F-sharp minor, a tonality of passion we know from Mozart’s Concerto in A, K. 488. A third subject develops in F Major. Within the course of the development—beginning in C-sharp minor—which Entremont approaches with etched, controlled poise, the various rhythmic impulses collide and dissolve—as do alternations of major and minor—often leaving us with a sense of delicately balanced resignation, which the trill consistently threatens. The coda seems to compress the poetic, main subject and the ominous trill into a statement of aspiration and dissolution as its main impulse.
The Andante sostenuto (in C-sharp minor) is set in ternary form, in which the main theme evolves on tonal dominant of G-sharp. The music builds up on an askew sequence of seventeen measures. The accents prove more doleful than fateful, and Entremont’s left hand moves in gloomy regions, despite their dance-like character. When the real melodic tissue evolves, it comes in A Major, attesting to Schubert’s love of the sixth degree of the scales he exploits. In his development, or variations, of the theme, we hear Neapolitan harmony and a period in E Major. Entremont imbues this music with a tragic, even severe, dignity rife with transparent consolations. To relieve the intensity of the first two movements, Schubert inserts a Scherzo in B-flat Major, light, and upwardly moving in jaunty rhythmic kernels. The central tune itself enjoys a kind of development, measures 17-68. With the middle section, Schubert offers B-flat minor, set as disjunctive impulses in duple and triple meter. The syncopes prove once again a source of disruption, but the return of the main theme under Entremont’s balanced approach assures us that humor trumps tragedy.
The last movement in B-flat Major, Allegro, ma non troppo declares itself on G, with intimations of a more dire C minor. What always arrests us is the secondary theme in F Major, singing with syncopes in the left hand. There is a third subject, most dire in F minor, chordal and menacing. Though the three subjects find their way into Schubert’s recapitulation, only the first subject receives real treatment as far as development goes. Entremont proves intent to articulate the left hand progressions that follow the course of the long lines of the fast passages. The entire procession slows down prior to the Presto coda, a kind of compression of the opening motive, here made to sing in defiance of whatever ills loomed before it.
For the realization of the great 1828 Fantasie in f minor, Entremont shares the keyboard with his former apprentice from the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau, Gen Tomuro. Typical of Schubert’s style—that compresses a one-movement work into four, identifiable sections – opening with a wistful tune in the high register, Allegro molto moderato. The interval of the rising fourth saturates the texture. Each section segues seamlessly into another, with forte, dotted rhythms announcing the Largo movement, which sings over a throbbing bass line. Alternations of major and minor and shifting trills define a powerful panoply of martial colors. Suddenly the Scherzo erupts in playful gestures, often in canon. When Schubert once more introduces the ghostly, poetic opening, he means to evolve a potent fugue, similar to Schubert’s gambit in the Wanderer-Fantasie. This strict procedure finds a kind of ambivalent solace in Schubert’s lyrical gestures, ornamented, even obsessive, in its repeated notes and thundering chords. The last page turns to the opening motif, but wrenching dissonances proclaim that this, too, shall pass away. The French gave me my first recorded rendition of this piece, featuring Robert and Gaby Casadesus.
Entremont and Tomuro conclude with the sprightly, song-form March militaire No. 1 in D Major, which I first heard in its orchestral transcription under Knappertsbusch. The easy, persuasive duet struts and flutters bravely to the lyrical middle section, with its incursion into minor harmony, without any sense of tragedy, only “fairer hopes.”