Superb Schubert performed by Alexander Melnikov and Andreas Staier

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert
WORKS: Fantasie in F Minor, D940; Four Ländler, D814; Marches caractéristiques, D886 No. 1; Variations in A flat on an original theme; March D819 No. 3; Polonaise, Op. 61 No. 1; Rondo in A, D951
PERFORMER: Alexander Melnikov, Andreas Staier (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMM 902227

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Schubert stands alone among great composers in having written almost as many masterpieces for four hands at one piano, as for two. Several of his most significant duets resulted from his two protracted stays in Hungary, where he was employed as music-master to the daughters of Count Esterházy von Galánta. By all accounts, Schubert fell deeply in love with the younger of them, Karoline, and in the last year of his life he dedicated his most famous four-hands piece, the Fantasy in F minor D940, to her. No less fine than the Fantasy are the Rondo in A major, also composed in 1828, and the Variations D813 which were one of the fruits of Schubert’s second Hungarian visit some four years earlier. The theme of the variations is in the style of a march, and the repeated-note rhythm of its melancholy fifth variation echoes the famous second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

Andreas Staier and Alexander Melnikov play all these pieces with admirable poetry and intimacy.  There have been fine accounts of some of this repertoire in the past: Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia in the Fantasy (Sony), Lupu and Barenboim in the variations (Teldec); but this new recording has the advantage of being played on the type of instrument Schubert would have known. The CD booklet doesn’t vouchsafe any information about the Graf piano Staier and Melnikov use, but it has in-built percussion effects which they use with glee in the two marches included in their programme.

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Misha Donat