Fanfare

Franz Schubert (1797–1828) is one of my favorite composers. It always astounds me at the sheer number of works which he produced over the course of such a shortened lifespan. What truly astounds one, though, is not only the sheer number of works which he wrote, but the quality of even the shortest of them: each waltz or march, Ländler or German dance, has the same Schubertian stamp of uniqueness as do his sonatas, symphonies, or songs. In other words, he offers not just quantity or quality—he offers both. And his music shows the best of his age: it is lyrically beautiful, playful, spirited, profound in thought and emotion, filled with a sense of Classical poise, yet equally filled with Romantic ardor. The four-hand works on the current recital display well the composer’s maturation from a young burgeoning musician to a complete master of composition in a short span of time. Even the earliest works found on these discs are staggering in their level of achievement.

There are too many works here to go into detail regarding many of them. Suffice it to say that whichever styles of music interest one—improvisatory fantasies, swinging dances, lively marches, elegant and virtuosic variations, grand sonatas, or otherwise—they are to be found here. Among my favorites are the famous F-Minor Fantasy, with its mysterious opening, its gradual movement towards the lyrical, its ebullient and light-hearted scherzo, and the finale’s return to the ominous opening mood. But equally interesting and well played is the earlier Fantasy, marked D 1, written when the composer was just 13 years old! It is clearly the work of a composer in training rather than the later master, yet it still displays daring harmonic innovations (track 3), a profound, quasi-Beethovenian idea which begins the whole, yet also a lightheartedness which the composer thankfully never lost. Though it may not be the greatest Schubert ever produced, it already shows the path which he was to take. Equally charming and magical are the numerous shorter works: the contrasting Ländler in C Minor and C Major, D 814/3 and 4, make for a perfect pair. Lasting only a minute and a half, they show the best of both sides of the coin: The brash and energetic C-Minor opening is countered beautifully by the dreamy, softer arpeggiations of the C-Major dance, before the whole is rounded off by a repeat of the first section. Here the rustic character of the first dance plays off with the touching simplicity of the second: each one enhances the other. Also included are the three popular Marches Militaires, D 733: though the first is the most famous, with its opening unison introduction, each of the others is equally vibrant, equally brilliant in instrumental interplay. But ever since I first heard Ormandy’s recording of the work with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the First has always held a special place in my heart.

And as a bonus, Schubert is not the only composer featured on this recital; so too is Robert Schumann. The pianists here include his collected Polonaises—yes, you read that correctly, Polonaises—eight in total. Though not every dance is a masterpiece, each shows a profound connection to the music of his time, and notably his own admiration for, even love of, the music of Chopin. And if one wants to fool someone, how tempting would it be to play for them the lovely Polonaise in G Minor and ask them who wrote it? My guess: Not one would say Schumann.

What pianists Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow bring to this music is priceless: a beautiful light touch, a real sense of playfulness when required, profound thought in the larger works, and a perfect temperament for this music—never too Classical, never too Romantic, but a lovely balance of both. What I miss in their playing, perhaps especially in the dance movements, is the fine sense of lilt which inhabits so much Viennese music, not just from a century later, but even from this earlier date. But what they miss in one way they amply make up in others. And passion for this music they have in spades. Along with informative booklet notes and resonant sound, these discs are ones to treasure. I know that since I’ve had them, I’ve listened to more Schubert than anything else. And I’ve discovered a whole host of works of which I’d never known. For me: the more Schubert, the better!

—Scott Noriega