This is a world premiere recording (titled The Unauthorised Piano Duos vol. 3) featuring arrangements for piano duet of two of Schubert’s most beloved masterpieces. The arranger of the “Death and the Maiden” is Robert Franz, a German organist, conductor, and composer whose work was apparently held in high esteem by none other than Liszt. The arranger of the “Unfinished” is Schubert’s friend Anselm Huttenbrenner, who maintained Schubert’s orchestral manuscript in trust until its first performance in 1865. Accompanying the canonical two movements of the “Unfinished” are a scherzo completed and transcribed by pianist Anthony Goldstone from Schubert’s sketches, and a finale, which consists of the entr’acte from the incidental music Schubert contributed to Helmina von Chezy’s play Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus. The finale was arranged by Friedrich Hermann, a German composer who died in 1907, and is performed here with “minor modifications” by Goldstone.
Now, the million dollar question: Is this album worth the asking price ($18.99 on the Arkivmusic web site)? Well, let me answer with a personal anecdote. I first listened to this recording in the apartment of Fanfare alumna Susan Kagan, whose affection for and understanding of this music has few, if any, peers. Naturally, I expected a stimulating conversation once all would be said and done. But, much to my disappointment, the verdict was in upon a quick review of the disc’s cover. “Why would anyone want to hear this?” Then, the “Death and the Maiden” began, and by the time the miraculous transition to the Allegro’s F-major theme was completed, the verdict was reversed. “Oh, that Schubert!” Nothing else was said until some 35 minutes later.
The bottom line is that if you love Schubert’s music, you ought to hear this, and I very much doubt that you will ask for a refund. It is true that the “Unfinished” does not really work as a piano transcription —the blame rests not with the arrangers’ efforts, but rather with the instrument’s inability to fully sustain Schubert’s soaring melodies, much less replicate the tonally diverse voice of Schubert’s orchestra. The “Death and the Maiden,” on the other hand, works wondrously on the piano, and Goldstone and his partner Caroline Clemmow deliver an impassioned, gripping performance that may occasionally make you forget that you are in fact hearing a transcription. What’s more, Schubert’s unique ability to move from darkness to light as if by a sleight of hand really hits home here. Oh, that Schubert!
The sound is excellent, as are Goldstone’s informative notes. A most stimulating release that has my highest recommendation.