It has taken a whopping eight years for the third volume in this series to appear. Better late than never. Judging from the lack of reviews of the previous volumes, this series is woefully unknown. Goldstone and Clemmow are arguably the best piano duo active today. I have not yet heard a bad or mediocre performance by them. In this volume, two of Schubert’s greatest works are presented in attractive four-hand arrangements.
For some of us, listening to a chamber masterwork like the “Death and the Maiden” quartet in a piano arrangement is a tall order. Whether for purist reasons or legitimate concerns that one loses the timbres, color, and interplay between instruments, some feel piano duet versions are a skeletal and less-than-full experience. I am not in this camp and think piano arrangements clarify harmonies and melodic lines. Goldstone argues for hearing the arrangement of the “Death and the Maiden” as if it were a four-hand piano sonata, which is persuasive. The arrangement by Robert Franz, a good composer in his own right, is surprisingly sonorous and convincing as a four-hand piano work. The first movement retains all its bold drama and motoric energy on the keyboard. But the greatest moments are heard in the poignant second movement, which is simply beautiful on the piano. Its plaintive theme is put through five variations of expressive contrast. I really don’t miss the strings here. I think the “ride of death” finale, a wild tarantella of Erlkonig character, is the most effective movement arranged for piano. Franz employs repeated notes, runs, and massive chords at climax points, which are surprisingly idiomatic and rich. In some ways, the texture sounds more voluminous, which may also be credited to Goldstone and Clemmow, who sound palpably animated in their performance.
Schubert dedicated his Unfinished Symphony to the Graz Music Society, of whom Anselm Huttenbrenner was a high-ranking member. When he received Schubert’s manuscript of the two movements–plus the sketch of the third scherzo–Huttenbrenner kept it a secret for over 40 years, depriving the public of a great work. At some point during his possession of the manuscript, he arranged the symphony for piano duet. As Goldstone suggests, the arrangement is quite literal with little attempt to simplify the texture and accommodate four hands. This is especially noticeable in the development section of the first movement, which really rises to dramatic volumes of sound. By contrast, the slow movement is utterly delicate, serene, and sublime. Not content to present Huttenbrenner’s arrangement by itself, Goldstone “finishes” the symphony. He completes Schubert’s sketch of the boisterous scherzo by adding a sunny waltz-like accompaniment, and then fleshes out the trio. The result is convincingly Schubertian to me, full of charm and delight. What to do about the non-existent finale? Goldstone and Clemmow insert the Rosamunde “Entr’acte,” which makes sense because it’s in the same key and resembles the arresting seriousness of the opening movement.
Bottom line: Possibly the best volume of this series, Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” quartet and Unfinished Symphony are masterpieces worth hearing on the piano. It will take suppressing any purist tendencies to listen to them with an open mind, but I think Franz’s arrangement is particularly effective. Goldstone and Clemmow are at the height of their powers.