Schubert: Fantasy in C, Duo in A & Arpeggione Sonata

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WORKS: Sonata in A, D574 (Grand Duo, arr. Wispelwey); Sonata in A minor, D821 (Arpeggione); Fantasy in C, D934 (arr. Wispelwey)
PERFORMER: Pieter Wispelwey (cello), Paolo Giacometti (fortepiano)


Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata is a piece that’s invariably heard in a transcription for cello (or sometimes viola) and piano. That’s because the curious six-stringed instrument for which it was written – a sort of bowed guitar – had such a short shelf-life. The cello actually suits the piece very well and Pieter Wispelwey and Paolo Giacometti, using an 1815 Viennese piano, deliver a fine performance, bringing out the music’s full lyricism. 

So far so good, but Schubert’s violin works are less suited to Wispelwey’s instrument. The great C major Fantasy D934 sounds particularly laboured on the less naturally athletic cello. Schubert writes virtually the whole of the long slow introduction in a pianissimo that has the violin in its highest register, accompanied by delicate piano tracery; but with the violin part played an octave (or sometimes two) below pitch, as here, the music’s ethereal atmosphere is inevitably sacrificed.


Much the same goes for the gentle staccato main theme in the following Allegretto. Both in this work and in the A major Duo D574 Wispelwey’s wholesale transpositions seriously misrepresent the music’s sonority and character. For the Fantasy, the classic recording by Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin is highly recommended; while Szymon Goldberg and Radu Lupu find warmth in the Sonata. Misha Donat