Schubert: Fantasy in C, D934; Fantasy in C, D760 (Wanderer)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Fantasy in C, D934; Fantasy in C, D760 (Wanderer)
PERFORMER: Yuuko Shiokawa (violin), András Schiff (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 464 320-2
An intriguing juxtaposition: András Schiff, most reflective and unshowy of Schubertians, in the Wanderer Fantasy, the composer’s most exuberantly virtuosic keyboard work. Schiff is, of course, quite unfazed by the work’s technical challenges; and the poise and lucidity of his playing, his effortless control of a wide spectrum of dynamics and colour, are to be marvelled at. His trademark pellucid cantabile and the luminous textures he conjures from his Bösendorfer are memorably displayed in, say, the lyrical E major metamorphosis of the theme in the opening movement (exquisitely floated and coloured), or the filigree decorations in the Adagio. But Schiff’s evident determination to underplay the work’s heroic, barnstorming aspects in favour of its contemplative lyricism can have its downside, especially in the finale, where the frequent yieldings tend to soften the music’s contours and weaken its titanic, obsessive rhythmic drive. Pollini’s magisterial 1973 reading is altogether more robust and urgent here; and, for all Schiff’s subtlety and insight, Pollini would still get my vote for his ideal balancing of devil-may-care extroversion and the inner poetic vision.

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In the late C major Fantasy, a fascinating, if sprawling, work composed for the virtuoso violinist Joseph Slavik, Schiff is joined by his wife Yuuko Shiokawa. She may not be the most alluring violinist around; but she deploys her slender, slightly fragile tone with grace and sensitivity, and is admirably nimble in Schubert’s pyrotechnics. The pair make something magical of the hushed, expectant opening, nicely point the strutting Hungarian rhythms of the Allegretto, and bring an uncommon delicacy and poetry to the variations on the song ‘Sei mir gegrüsst’ at the heart of the work. Richard Wigmore