This is the third and final volume of Anthony Goldstone’s traversal of Schubert’s solo piano music for The Divine Art record company. Reading other reviews of Goldstone’s series, it strikes me that many of them have a common refrain; initial hearings are not well received, but further listening results in a very high opinion of Goldstone’s interpretations. This type of response usually means that the artist is conveying one or more unusual aspects of the music that take some time to enter the listener’s comfort zone.
Anthony Goldstone’s performances have been within my comfort zone from the first listening of Volume 1 through to the recent distribution of Volume 3. Perhaps what turns some reviewers off at first is the stark soundstage. This has an extremely wide dynamic range and is open to every detail and ounce of emphasis offered by Goldstone whose own dynamic spectrum is much wider than the norm. This soundstage is just perfect for my listening tastes but might take a while for some others to adjust to.
As for Goldstone, he acquits himself splendidly as would be expected from his two earlier volumes. He consistently conveys the continuity of Schubert’s singing lines and the inherent sparkle and playfulness so crucial to this composer’s music. Even better, there are times such as in the Four Impromptus where he mines the music for its power, clarity, drama, and impetuosity. When using this stunning approach, Goldstone reaches a high point of distinction among the many pianists who have recorded these works.
Here are some highlights of my journey through Volume 3:
Four Impromptus, D. 899 – From the powerful initial chord of the C minor, it is evident that Goldstone is not going to hold back his reserves of strength. He doesn’t see the work as a pretty ornament to entice listeners, but as a declaration of emotional angst set against some of the loveliest musical passages Schubert ever created. Goldstone’s assertive approach will either leave listeners aghast or emotionally spent.
The Impromptu in E flat major is one of my favorite Schubert pieces mainly because of the stunning contrasts between the first and middle sections. In the first section, the glittering and speedy right-hand melody distributes power throughout the spectrum. In the middle section, both hands concentrate a tremendous weight of energy in the emotional core [cd 1 tr. 3 1.12]. This is muscular music at its peak, and the Sviatoslav Richter version from his famous Sofia recital on Philips demonstrates the sheer power, tension and unpredictability of the music. Goldstone is very much in the Richter mode with impetuous force always around the corner. Simply judging from their performances, Richter and Goldstone are two guys you don’t want to mess with.
Radu Lupu’s performance for Decca of the Impromptu in G flat major has always impressed me with the beauty and caressing nature of its first section. Lupu’s approach does not interest Goldstone who uses the first section to set the table for the turbulent middle section in E flat minor. Although missing Lupu’s sublime elements, the tension Goldstone imparts to the first section makes the desperation in the middle section a natural response more than in any other version I know. Goldstone’s hammer-like blows demand one’s attention, but you might want to stay close to the volume control.
Sonata in A minor, D. 845 – Although I was initially disappointed that Goldstone isn’t quite as virile in the A minor as in the Impromptus, his performance is certainly a fine one. He fully captures the delicate and playful elements inherent in the score, and his rhythmic flow consistently registers Schubert’s cantabile line as amply demonstrated in his gently rocking 3 rd Movement Trio [cd 1 tr. 8 3:34]. His version of the A minor compares well with the exceptional Imogen Cooper on Ottavo, Goldstone being more assertive and Cooper more delicate and sparkling.
Sonata in C major, D. 840 – This work, having the title “Reliquie” because it was mistakenly considered Schubert’s last composition when it was published in 1861, has an interesting history. Schubert never did complete his 3 rd and 4 th Movements, breaking off the 3 rd after 80 bars and the 4 th after 120 bars. Pianists have resolved the matter by only playing the first two Movements, playing the score as left by Schubert, or completing the last two Movements themselves. Actually, there is one pianist I know who uses the most extreme solution; John Damgaard discards the C major entirely in his box set of all of Schubert’s Piano Sonatas released on ClassicO. That is one stingy solution that is difficult to overlook in a ‘complete’ set of the Schubert Sonatas.
Of the above alternatives, I favor the playing of the score as left by Schubert, and I couldn’t ask for a better guide to the work than Sviatoslav Richter’s version on Philips that is one of the great Schubert recordings of the 20 th Century. He stretches the 1 st Movement Moderato to over twenty-two minutes in a transcendent display of the ability to keep interest at heightened levels and convey the sublime comfort and assurance that is so prevalent in Schubert’s compositions. As for the remainder of the C major, Richter keeps letting us know that he is the king of Schubert’s cantabile lines.
Goldstone takes the 1 st Movement like a speed-demon compared to Richter whose assurance and comfort are replaced with edginess and worry. Goldstone executes his approach expertly, but I sorely miss that feeling of ‘home’ that Richter offers. Goldstone’s completions of the final two Movements are idiomatic and compare well to those by Ernst Krenek and Paul Badura-Skoda. Overall, Goldstone gives us another excellent performance, but Richter remains unchallenged.
Sonata in D major, D. 850 – A radiant and upbeat work, Schubert wrote his D major while on a pleasant holiday vacation to the countryside. The exuberant 1 st Movement Allegro vivace is given a particularly wonderful reading by Goldstone whose playful and impetuous personality makes this the version of choice. I especially love the passage where Goldstone displays great vitality and enthusiasm without a care in the world through a sparkling traversal into Schubert’s shimmering lines [cd 2 tr. 7 1:18].
Smaller Works – Of the three lesser-known works on the program, Schubert’s Diabelli Variation is the most interesting. For those not familiar with its history, the story begins with the composer and publisher Anton Diabelli (1781-1858) who wrote a slight and rather insipid waltz theme. Subsequently, Diabelli reached out to a large group of other composers, asking each to compose one variation on his theme. Schubert’s contribution is on Goldstone’s program and it is a very enjoyable one-minute piece.
I suppose that to mention Diabelli’s Variation without bringing up Ludwig van Beethoven’s contributions would represent heresy. Beethoven could have supplied a variation to Diabelli, but instead he publicly ridiculed the music and Diabelli’s request. However, Beethoven was a crafty fellow, and he secretly wrote one of the greatest variation works of Western Civilization famously known as the Diabelli Variations. Never much of a ‘joiner’, Beethoven preferred to establish his own path and leave others in his wake. I wouldn’t suggest that Schubert’s little contribution to Diabelli approaches the quality of Beethoven’s majestic work, but it would have fit nicely in Beethoven’s schematic.
In conclusion, outstanding sound, and performances never less than excellent, round out Anthony Goldstone’s series of Schubert’s piano masterworks. Perhaps not quite as compelling as Richter or Brendel, Goldstone holds his own with the exceptional recordings by Kempff, Uchida and Cooper. An additional plus is that each of the 2CD sets can be had for just the price of one premium disc. I heartily recommend that Schubert piano enthusiasts find a spot in their music libraries for Mr. Goldstone.