CD Review by Aart van der Wal in Opus Klassiek, June 2020 – “Franz Schubert: L’enchantement retrouvé”
June 30, 2020

It was not Franz Schubert who invented the impromptu, but the Czech Jan Václav Hugo Vorísek (1791-1825). A contemporary of both Schubert (1797-1828) and Beethoven (1770-1827). And, not coincidentally, Vorisék also died in Vienna: on November 19, 1825. He also belonged to the echelon of composers and musicians attracted by the music metropolis.

Those ‘impromptus’, short piano pieces, were very popular with the Viennese audience. So much so that they quickly became an important genre. Obviously, Schubert’s music publisher did not miss that, so he arbitrarily renamed the ‘Klavierstücke’ offered by Schubert into ‘Impromptus’. Apparently in the expectation that this would positively influence the sales figures. Not so. Schubert was and remained a shadow composer for the Viennese audience and this ‘impromptus’ could not change that either. A fate that was also granted to the ‘Moments Musicaux’.

But not only the naming went under the chopping block: for example, the impromptu in G-Flat Major, the third of D 899, which became much later so famous, was transposed for convenience by the same publisher only a semitone higher, so that the original six flats could be neatly exchanged for only one sharp: the proud f sharp of G Major. Which, anyway, drastically changed the character of the piece. No one, however, was awake. The poor composer may also have agreed: ‘if only it sells’. Later, Brahms would also play an important role in this when he was commissioned to make strict edits to Schubert’s piano works for the leading publishing house Breitkopf & Härtel. He wouldn’t have had the feeling that he was moving on slippery ice back then, because “it could only get better.” Julius Epstein (1832-1926) also did it after Brahms, with of course a different result. Which also applies to  Walter Gieseking (1895-1956), the pianist who still speaks through his many recordings.
It was then still a long way in the direction of something so obvious to us as the “Urtext” editions, stripped of all kinds of interventions by third parties; usually with the best intentions.

However, one important question may be asked: what about the different interpretations from the  skilfully restored image of notes? The freedom that the individual artist allows himself or herself – and this certainly applies to these precious miniatures, true school examples of very successful ‘exercises’ in the small form – to bring this music to life according to his or her views? After all, there is no pianist who does not want to give it his own ‘interpretation’, whereby it is of course left to the listener whether he can associate with it or not. What is ‘responsible’ from a historical perspective often turns out to be a matter of perception in practice, although some would like to make people believe otherwise.

That interpretation remains – fortunately! – still a valuable attribute that can push the musical experience to new heights. This applies primarily to performances that we have come to regard as the top segment, with pianists of the caliber of Arrau, Brendel, Uchida, Lupu, Pires, Schiff, Perianes and Hamelin in the front ranks. And then there is that inimitable Sokolov who repeatedly succeeds on the concert stage to unfold a very idiosyncratic evocative panorama and whose extremely expressive, often even whimsical play seems to be detached from any (supposed) tradition and perhaps precisely because of it knows how to fascinate. Where I immediately point out that a live performance that is recorded for ‘eternity’ always remains that one live performance in which the concept is explored to the utmost limits and of which the result no longer resembles an interpretation thought up to the smallest detail. In the heat of the moment, with the inevitably associated pros and cons.

The “Impromptus” (D 899), the “Moments Musicaux” (D 780): oh well, it is just a naming that is completely in the shadow of what is without a doubt Great Music – yes, with capital letters!. Music that constantly captivates and whose chosen form perfectly matches some drama and lyricism and of which every note can make it without any further finery thanks to its faceted properties. Incidentally, not every pianist has understood this correctly, stuck with the misunderstanding that a consciously chosen own interpretation profile would need that finery. It can be demonstrated, the large mutual differences in interpretation shows it, that there is sufficient maneuvering within that inexorable given context without falling into fiddling.

Having said that, there is no question of a tradition determined by the same discographic history to which every newcomer should conform. Or in other words: the spell can strike again and again. As Ingrid Carbone proves with her new album, which was not without reason given the title ‘L’Enchantement retrouvé’: in this case the spell that could (had to?) be rediscovered in her eyes and which she managed to redeem with heart and soul.  Her composition studies may have helped her in what is ultimately one of the most beautiful aspects of her interpretation: rediscovering the notes and then giving it interpretative direction and staying away from what I theoretically call dry swimming and that ultimately brings nothing; and certainly not for the listener. This music should sound as fresh as dew and as clear as glass, with the accents set where, given the musician’s individual perception, they are the most eloquent. Accelerandi and rubati thus do not become a goal in themselves, but take shape with a suppleness that – it should be interpreted as paradox – is embedded in form. This has nothing to do with ostentation, showing, but with devotion, enthusiasm, intimacy and poetic metamorphosis. It provides a convincing exposé of what will always remain a fascinating landscape in my ears.

The sonority of the exquisitely voiced and tuned Bechstein grand piano (the model D comes from the Angelo Fabbrini collection) and the detailed recording prove to be the ideal carriers for this richly varied, magnificent game by this acclaimed prize winner (you will find the necessary on the Web).

Read the review (in deutsche)>>

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