Schubert: Impromptus; Moments Musicaux; Janáček: On an Overgrown Path – selection
Herbert Schuch (piano)
Avi-music AVI 8553515 76:01 mins
Schubert and Janáček may not immediately strike the listener as an obvious pairing. Although Janáček spoke with approval of the ‘Great’ C major Symphony, Schubert didn’t loom large in his musical universe. Herbert Schuch follows a hunch, however, that the two composers share a sense of exploration in which improvisation is key. He presents his findings in a programme which opens, conventionally enough, with Schubert’s Four Impromptus, Op. 90, followed by the Six Moments Musicaux interspersed with six of the ten pieces from the first series of Janáček’s On an Overgrown Path.
The virtuosity Schuch displays in the second and fourth Impromptus is intoxicating although the sheer brilliance of the finger-work obscures crucial points of emphasis. His beautifully shaped reading of the third is much more satisfying, but overall Paul Lewis provides stronger and more consistent competition on Harmonia Mundi. Schuch’s way with Janáček is attractive; while occasionally impulsive where rubato is concerned, he maintains a clear sense of narrative, heard at its best in a memorable performance of ‘The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away’, and his playing of the main melody in the ‘Madonna of Frýdek’ – directed to be played ‘from a distance’ – is magical.
As to whether his combination of the Moments Musicaux with Janáček’s pungent miniatures is enough to convince the listener that these composers are indeed the Soul Mates of the recording’s title is a question best left to the individual. For me, the argument would have been stronger had he recorded Janáček’s collection complete alongside Schubert’s.