LABELS: RCA Red Seal
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert
WORKS: Fantasie, D940; Allegro, D947 (Lebensstürme); Sonata, D812 (Grand Duo); Characteristic March No. 1, D968b; Military March No. 1, D733
PERFORMER: Evgeny Kissin, James Levine (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 69283 2
Schubert is unique in having written some of his most striking and audacious works for one piano, four hands. It was the surest way for him to hear what he had written, since these compositions could be played at the ‘Schubertiads’ where he introduced his friends to his latest pieces. They aren’t performed nearly often enough, though such distinguished teams as Britten and Richter, Lupu and Perahia, have recorded them. It was enterprising
of Kissin and Levine to give a concert devoted to Schubert’s three greatest, biggest, works in the genre, together with two smaller encores, one very familiar. From the accompanying photos we see that they used two pianos, but that presumably was just for convenience, since as any duettist knows it is easy to get in one another’s way on one piano. We aren’t told who played top and bottom; they probably alternated.
The results are often invigorating, full of musical insights, absolutely on top of the strenuous technical demands Schubert makes, but add up to a rather oppressive programme, best taken in at least two separate doses. RCA recorded the pianos very close, so the sound is percussive – and so is a lot of Schubert’s writing. He was clearly aiming for effects of what are often thought of as ‘orchestral’ dimensions, and one fully sees why several people have actually orchestrated these pieces, though I don’t feel successfully. As it is, we must be grateful for such vigorous renderings of the so-called Grand Duo, a 40-minute piece, and the Storms of Life, shorter but even more aggressive. The finest of all, the F minor Fantasy, comes first, and the two players take a little time to relax and not to play metronomically. Thereafter they are virtually ideal, but I would still recommend, despite moderate sound, the magical combination of Britten and Richter. Michael Tanner