MusicWeb International

In this era of “authentic” performance the description fortepiano is used both widely and loosely. It is a well-intentioned term indicating that it is an early post-harpsichord but pre-modern instrument. Perhaps somewhere between Haydn and Chopin would be a good rule of thumb. The instrument used here however is a six-octave Square Piano of 1832 manufactured by Clementi who apart from composing and giving concerts had investments in the instrument-making company bearing his name. Since the works were composed not too many years before the manufacture of the instrument and square pianos were used extensively during this period, it seems an excellent choice and it certainly has a fullness of tone superior to instruments of the 1790s. It is interesting to note that Katin (who provides his own notes) explains that he sometimes had to re-think the phrasing that he had applied to Schubert’s music when previously using a modern piano.

The Impromptus imply a grander scale and are therefore more demanding for the period piano [than the Klavierstücke]. In the event, the firm, clear but very light bass of the instrument does not pose a problem in itself because so many of these works are of a flowing nature. The very first work (D899 in C minor) does have slow, spaced chords at the start and here the bare acoustic does seem to hinder the progress. This apart, Katin has a penetrating sense of shape and form. Gentle rubato is applied but it never interrupts the musical current (the elegant liquid runs in the A flat minor D 899 remind me of the famous old Schnabel version).

The recorded sound is very close and not very resonant. Maybe this technique was chosen in order to clarify the tonal characteristics of an historic instrument but it reveals an occasional mid-range “ring” in the powerful passages. Another result of this immediacy of sound is that the dynamics seem a little limited – most noticeably in the grander Impromptus. At a soiree in a 19th Century drawing room, Schubert’s music may well have sounded like this. This is authentic music-making and stylish pianism but the bloom of a concert hall acoustic would have been welcome.

—Antony Hodgson