Schubert: Fantasy in F minor, D940; Variations in A flat, D813; Grand Duo in C, D812

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Decca Britten at Aldeburgh
WORKS: Fantasy in F minor, D940; Variations in A flat, D813; Grand Duo in C, D812
PERFORMER: Sviatoslav Richter, Benjamin Britten (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 466 822-2 ADD
These live recordings, from Aldeburgh Festival performances in the mid-Sixties, present some of the greatest music ever written for four hands at one and two pianos, played by two of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. And the results don’t disappoint. Richter and Britten are very different pianists, Richter immaculate, brilliant with strong, songful tone, Britten (perhaps inevitably) slightly weaker but possessed of particularly warm sensitivity to tone shading. Yet they blend excellently: only in the Mozart sonatas – delivered with panache and evident delight – can one really distinguish between them. The Schubert Grand Duo is as great a work as any of Schubert’s string quartets, conceived with the grandeur of a symphony: Richter and Britten accord it its full significance, with profound understanding of its characteristically Schubertian hovering between major and minor. The playing is vigorous as well as poetic, and although the opening of the Variations in A flat sounds almost too literal, there is good reason for this: in the penultimate variation, they, and Schubert, seem to stare back at the theme with a sobering, nearly terrifying, new perspective. Finally, their performance of Debussy’s En blanc et noir is full of colour. There is some ambient hiss in the recorded sound, and occasional noise from the audience, but I’m not bothered by either. Jessica Duchen

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