SCHUMANN: Fantasiestuecke, Op. 12; SCHUBERT: Sonata Fragment in E Major, D. 459; Adagio in C Major, D. 459A; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2 “Tempest” – Adrian Aeschbacher, piano – KASP Records KASP 57722, 63:00 [www.kasprecords.com] ****:
Donald Isler’s KASP Records presents us another marvelous opportunity to savor the artistry of Swiss piano virtuoso and pedagogue Adrian Aeschbacher (1912-2002) in music inscribed 1952-1954. Aeschbacher, a pupil of Artur Schnabel, boasts a long list of recorded collaborations that includes work with Paul van Kempen and Wilhelm Furtwaengler.
The opening Schumann 1837 Fantasiestuecke, Op. 12 (20 October 1954) from Stuttgart reveals Aeschbacher for the natural Schumann disciple we know from his exquisite Davidsbuendler Taenze released prior on KASP 57671. While Aeschbacher’s legato proceeds with less butter than Moiseiwitsch in the D-flat Des Abends, Aeschbacher’s gracious serenity elicits Eusebius’ refinement and inner security. The “soaring” F Minor Aufschwung generates the requisite nervous energy that characterizes Schumann’s extrovert Florestan. Tenderness returns in the querulous Warum? also in D-flat Major, as is the ensuing Grillen, which may be loosely translated, despite its martial air, as (syncopated) “caprices” or “whims.” Aeschbacher injects a whirled frenzy into In der Nacht, an F Minor tremulous fever of anxiety. The long-held notes in Fabel (in C Major) contrast to the quirky presto sections, an opportunity for Aeschbacher’s Florestan to explode in bravura passagework. The Traumes-Wirren or whirling dreams in F Major has wonderful light accuracy, though not so manic as is the Horowitz version from the 1930s. The da capo injects a bit of fluttery poetry that requires repeated hearings. The last section, Ende vom Lied (in F) emanates an emotional mix of pleasure and pain here at Song‘s End, wedding bells and knells at once. Typically, the music becomes a maerchen or fantasy-march into which Aeschbacher invests a lithe and heated colorful energy.
Of the two relatively brief Schubert pieces (rec. 1 October 1952), the Adagio in C Major proves the lovelier, rife with grace and mystery simultaneously. Its haunting progression at first suggests one of those posthumous Klavierstuecke from D. 946. The lovely trills Aeschbacher executes add to the “antiquity” of its feeling, as though Schubert were adding pages to a Mozart sonata. The E Major fragment possesses a Classical charm as well, to which Aeschbacher brings a breezy, music-box polish. Occasionally, the martial air and passing notes remind us of elements in the “Wanderer” Fantasie.
Beethoven came to Aeschbacher directly through his mentor Schnabel, but the conception of the Tempest Sonata (via DGG) belongs to Aeschbacher’s feral virtuosity alone. He colors the opening chords and his explosive runs after the Largo’s rolled chords both disturb and arrest. The fluency of line and strength of the bass chords gain an undeniable momentum, one that Beethoven likes to interrupt for his own dramatic purposes. Even the recitativo passages retain a mystery and suspense quite unique. The B-flat Adagio possesses color and emotional girth, the rising melody (over an ominous bass figure) cantered with a lilting nostalgia. Aeschbacher’s rolling arpeggios become luminous, almost a kind of aria (from Tosca) in which an ardent lover sings while awaiting his doom. The D Minor last movement, an aggressive moto perpetuo under Aeschbacher, carries enough “storm and stress” to convince us that the piece belongs to those high-drama compositions of the middle period that include the C Minor Concerto. Wonderful dynamic shades permeate Aeschbacher’s rendition, and those who revel in the Leschetizky-Schnabel tradition should find in Aeschbacher a remarkably athletic and intellectually acute exponent whose gifts demand more exposure, say his Grieg A Minor Concerto with Leopold Ludwig?
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