Fanfare

This landmark recording project—Schubert’s music for piano four-hands, complete on seven discs—provides a rich source of musical pleasure, and more than a few revelations. Divine Art’s reissue of Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow’s joyous performances gives listeners the opportunity to experience an overlooked and very significant side of Schubert’s output. Putting aside his identity as history’s (arguably) greatest composer of songs, or the creator of sublime, visionary string quartets and piano music, here is another Schubert: the tireless producer of a cornucopia of marches and polonaises, fantasias, and overtures, and other miscellaneous four-hand diversions. Yes, he composed most of this music to earn an income, but almost every piece is touched by some element of his genius.

Like most people, my awareness of Schubert’s huge catalog of piano duets has been limited to a few of its better-known entries. I was familiar with the “Grand Duo” Sonata, with its serious, symphonically conceived opening movement, but hadn’t made the acquaintance of his other four-hand sonata, the genial, sparkling Grand Sonata in B♭, until now. The lengthy, intermittently inspired Divertissement à la Hongroise is occasionally performed and recorded—Artur and Karl Ulrich Schnabel’s recording is a classic—but I suspect I’m not alone in having been unaware of its companion, the Divertissement on French Motifs, an elaborate, three-movement work of very consistent quality, with which Goldstone and Clemmow conclude the final disc. Schubert’s best-known work for piano duet is the Fantasy in F Minor, D 940. Here, it can be appreciated as the mature successor to two early, formally experimental Fantasies that Schubert composed for piano duet, the 21-minute long Fantasy, D 1, and the Fantasy, D 48.
All this music was composed for the entertainment of amateurs, and is ideally experienced by two players at one keyboard. But any misgiving that I had about listening to it on recordings was put to rest by the playing of Goldstone and Clemmow. (Divine Art doesn’t reveal which of them plays the Primo or Secondo parts). Goldstone and Clemmow’s playing compares favorably to that of the very fine, nuanced duo Tal and Groethuysen, who have also recorded the complete Schubert four-hand works. Their polished accounts never sound like perfunctory “read-throughs” done for the sake of completeness. These are real interpretations, notable for their verve, charm, elegant rubato, and crisp articulation. The duo has an uncannily precise sense of ensemble gained by long years of collaboration and performing the music in concert. Divine Art’s sound is clear and neither overly dry nor overly reverberant.

Furthermore, Goldstone and Clemmow have ordered their presentation of this sprawling material in a thoughtful, listener-friendly way. Rather than grouping pieces chronologically, or by genre, each of the seven discs reproduces a concert program, as performed by the duo in a seven-concert cycle. By alternating lighter works with more substantial ones, and contrasting genres with one another, any one of the seven discs becomes a satisfying listening experience in itself. Then there’s the added bonus of each disc concluding with an encore or two, in the form of Eight Polonaises, delightful, seldom heard, early works by Schumann that reveal his connection to Schubert. This important release has my highest recommendation, and it will be on my 2017 Want List.

—Paul Orgel