Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow have already established themselves in the Schubert discography with their world class recordings of Schubert’s piano works. Goldstone, in particular, has a reputation for being one of Schubert’s greatest champions. The caliber of his interpretations is simply phenomenal. Beyond this, when Clemmow joins Goldstone to form their illustrious piano duo, we have been given an ambrosia of world premiere piano arrangements: Mendelssohn’s 3rd, Dvorak’s 9th, Tchaikovsky’s 4th, his Romeo and Juliet overture, Grieg’s piano concerto, and now these exquisite rarities of Schubert.
For those who don’t haughtily snub their nose at piano transcriptions or arrangements, you can expect some of the most gorgeous and highly effective piano arrangements. There’s no need to compare these arrangements with the original versions because this music has a life of its own in the resonant tones of the piano. The Trout Quintet, Schubert’s most beloved chamber work, was first published by Joseph Czerny (1785-1831). In addition to the first publication, Czerny arranged the work for piano duet, so as to extend its popularity. In this Golden Age of recordings, one may argue, “Why bother with a hack-job arrangement when prominent chamber ensembles have recorded it?” My response is that the Trout Quintet becomes something new and incredible through the hands of a piano duo. For those who truly love this work, you can find just as much delight and ecstasy when it is solely played on the piano. The textures, phrases, melodic lines, and especially the harmonies become clear, luminous and elevated. The rich piano tones and timbres are ample and versatile enough to match the intimacy and variety of nuance found in the chamber work. From the energetic first movement, to the sublime second movement, the wondrous vigor and the power of expression are all present. The Theme and Variations and the Finale retain all the splendor and beauty found in the chamber version. Overall, there is not a single lackluster moment to be found: the work is celebrated, transmogrified, and faithfully performed.
In Ede Poldini’s (1869-1957) Study for two pianos on Schubert’s Impromptu in E flat major, the original Impromptu receives an updated and highly ornamented rendition. The magnificent music is always transparent, but Poldini adds trills, arpeggios and orchestral-like decorations in the style of Liszt or Thalberg. The cutest moment occurs halfway through the study when Poldini surprises us with a theme from Schubert’s Wanderer fantasy; it fits perfectly within the texture of the Impromptu. Huttenbrenner’s piano transcription of Schubert’s Rosamunde overture is probably the most successful arrangement I’ve heard in a while. How can one argue against the merits of this arrangement? If Schubert conceived these notes for a piano sonata, we would be doubly enthralled by its drama. And that’s what it sounds like: an oustanding sonata movement, resplendent with Schubert’s typical juxtaposition of brooding moments and light-hearted melodies.
The Polonaise in B flat major, “realised by Anthony Goldstone” and Prokofiev’s transcription of the Waltzes are a nice bonus, but the CD reaches an apex with a truly inspired piano performance of the profound Adagio from the D. 956 String Quintet. In the expansive CD notes, Goldstone humbly apologizes for even recording it, fearing he might offend purists. I’m somewhat disappointed with his lack of confidence, however, because this work needs no prefaced apology: as music it is one of the greatest and most exalted pieces Schubert ever wrote. On the piano, its transcendentalism and poignancy is gracefully presented. Admittedly, the desire to make comparisons between the actual string quintet and piano duet version are quite strong. The piano duet doesn’t match the subtleties of a chamber ensemble, but the music reaches the same divine plane. I also commend Goldstone and Clemmow’s dynamic interpretation, especially during their execution of the violent central section.
Bottom line: These performances are a shining example of a superlative piano duo reaching great heights of musicality and spectacular effect. The piano arrangements of Schubert’s Trout Quintet, his Rosamunde overture and the miraculous Adagio D. 956 are glorious achievements. In the hands of this competent duo, the chamber works become impressive pianistic simulacrums of the highest quality. Highly recommended.
Looking forward to the release of this organ and harpsichord album later this year. Wouldn't mind seeing more images of the beautiful Holy Name Church in Manchester where it was recorded either! twitter.com/sirbasme…