Beethoven • R Schumann
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (trans. Scharwenka); R Schumann: Six Studies in Canon Form (arr. Debussy)
Tessa Uys, Ben Schoeman (piano)
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0637 68:26 mins
Renowned pianist and gifted composer Franz Xaver Scharwenka (1850-1924) had fallen into almost total obscurity until Earl Wild made a now legendary recording of his Piano Concerto No. 1 in the late 1960s. Since then, several distinguished virtuosos, including Michael Ponti, Seta Tanyel, Marc-André Hamelin, Stephen Hough and Alexander Markovich have nailed their colours firmly to his mast. Now, celebrated duo team Tessa Uys and Ben Schoeman have released the first in a series of six discs featuring Scharwenka’s piano duet arrangements of all nine Beethoven symphonies, dating (according to Robert Matthew-Walker’s exemplary annotations) from between 1905 and 1907.
One might, not unreasonably, have assumed that Scharwenka would have allowed his virtuoso flair to spill over into this transcription, yet in the event his mastery of pianistic figuration is placed entirely at the service of Beethoven. So ingenious is Scharwenka’s four-hand adaptation of the mighty Eroica that while listening to this absorbing performance one is persuaded to forget almost entirely the orchestral original. Rather than adopt contemporary period instrument rhetoric and fleet-footed tempos, Uys and Schoeman set their interpretative compass around the mid-20th century – I was reminded on more than one occasion of Otto Klemperer’s structural integrity and unflinching tonal focus.
The combination of Schumann’s Bach homage for pedal-piano and Claude Debussy might at first appear an irreconcilable cultural mismatch. Yet played affectionately, as here, with a velvet touch as though the music were emerging through a shimmering heat haze, the effect is utterly beguiling. I look forward to the next instalment in the series with keen anticipation.