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A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reviewing ‘The Unauthorised Piano Duos – Vol. 3′ by the same soloists. I was seriously impressed with these ‘discoveries’ and felt that they ‘banished any residual aversion to transcriptions’ that I still entertained. This present disc was recorded in 2005 and presents two of Schubert’s masterpieces as well as one lesser-known work and a delightful ‘bon-bon’ originally composed for piano duet.

The liner-notes give a brief biography of the arranger Josef von Gahy: all the listener needs to remember is that he was not a professional musician, but a civil servant. Clearly, he must have had considerable musical competence to create these arrangements in the first place. Add to that the fact that he played them with Schubert and this suggests he was no slouch on the pianoforte either. In fact, he was the composer’s favourite partner for duet-playing. It is important to realise that von Gahy did not ‘recreate’ Schubert’s music but faithfully ‘arranged’ it even when this led to considerable technical difficulties.

The Trio in B flat major, D.898, for violin, cello and piano was completed in 1828 which was to be the year of Schubert’s death. It was not published until 1836. It is written in four well-balanced movements which present a wide range of moods and emotion. From the hugely confident opening Allegro moderato through the pensive Barcarolle by way of the sparky Scherzo full of cheeky syncopation to the ultimately humorous and positive Rondo finale, this work supports Schumann’s comment made on hearing this trio that ‘all the world is fresh and bright again’. The transfer from piano trio to piano duet is seamless. The listener who knows the original will feel no sense of ‘second best’, but will be conscious of a wholly valid complement to this gorgeous work.

Many people of my generation were introduced to Schubert’s stunningly beautiful Sonata in A minor, D. 821 for arpeggione and piano by Mstislav Rostropovich and Benjamin Britten (Decca LP SXL 6426). It was also my first introduction to Frank Bridge’s magnificent Cello Sonata. Earlier recordings of the Schubert had been made, and it was an increasingly popular work which was ‘taken up’ by Jacqueline Du Pré and Daniel Barenboim amongst many others.

The Sonata was most likely commissioned by Vincenz Schuster, who at that time was a (the only?) virtuoso on the arpeggione. This six stringed hybrid between cello and guitar, which was played with a bow but had fretted fingerboard, had been invented in 1823 by Johann Georg Stauffer of Vienna: it was soon to fall into desuetude. Schubert’s sonata is the only major work for the instrument that has survived. It has been recorded using copies of the contemporary instrument a number of times, but now is a lmost always played on the cello or the viola. There are currently well over 120 recordings of this work.

I have to admit that I was bowled over by this present version for piano duet. I am in danger of being castigated by fellow reviewers, cellists, readers and Schubert enthusiasts when I admit that I prefer it to the ‘original’ for cello and piano.

The Notturno in E flat major, D 897 is possibly the rejected slow movement of the Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat major. The notes point out that this piece is taken a little faster than the original piano trio version, which well reflects the composer’s instruction to play ‘appassionato’. This does not detract from the deliciousness of the performance, but adds to its stature. Of particular interest are the two dynamic and virtuosic episodes placed between the statements of the main ‘nocturnal’ theme.

The CD concludes with the charming Friendship Rondo in D major, D.608 which as the notes point out is a ‘quirky’ fusion of minuet and polonaise rhythms. It was composed around 1818 but was not published until 1835. This is really a bit of fun, rather than a serious-minded work of art. It was seemingly dedicated to Von Gahy and was designed for the composer and Von Gahy to play together. It is inscribed ‘Notre amitié est invariable’ (Our friendship is constant) although this was likely added by the publisher Diabelli rather than the composer. I understand that the layout of the piano parts means that the two pianists’ hands will be interlocked at the conclusion of the work. It is a delight and brings this wonderful CD to a fitting conclusion.

I need not reiterate my comments on the validity of arrangements of Schubert’s chamber works, the excellence of the sound, the outstanding quality of the notes and the sheer competence of both Anthony Goldstone and Catherine Clemmow in realising these splendidly attractive works. I refer the listener to my earlier review noted above. However, I will add that I enjoyed and was moved by the repertoire on this disc even more than on Volume 3. I am not sure if there are any more of these ‘unauthorised piano duos’ in existence but if there are I most certainly cannot wait to hear them. I have yet to hear Volume 1. I have not changed my view that the added value of this disc is the freshness that these performances and arrangements bring to these well-established chamber works.

—John France