Some of this material in earlier transfers to CD is still available on EMI, on single discs and in a two-CD set, and all of it can be had on a two-volume 1997 Pearl set. But the biggest selling point for this Music & Arts reissue, titled “Artur Schnabel: The Complete Schubert Recordings 1932–1950” —aside from the excellence of its sound—is its bargain price: five CDs priced as four. The engineer responsible for this latest transfer to compact disc, the expert Mark Obert-Thorn, includes in the notes an interesting explanation of the history of the recordings and the measures he has taken to achieve the best possible sound from the best source material, public and private, that he could find. Considering the problems in the relativelyRead more primitive recordings made in the 1930s, the results are exemplary.
Artur Schnabel’s role in the “rediscovery” of Schubert in the 20th century is well known; it is the good fortune of music-lovers to have had available his performances of Schubert’s music from his earliest recordings in 1932 (Lieder with his wife Teresa Behr-Schnabel) to the Impromptus, recorded in 1950, one year before he died.
Even more than his pioneer recording of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, Schnabel’s Schubert was a revelation. For one thing, Schubert’s piano music, in an age that worshipped Liszt and his followers, was generally unheard and/or dismissed; Schnabel’s teacher, Leschetizky, judging him unable to compete in the marketplace of piano virtuosos, recommended that Schnabel, more musician than pianist in his (Leschetizky’s) view, take up the Schubert sonatas. (In his autobiography, My Life and Music, Schnabel reports that he played the last three sonatas from the autograph manuscripts in the Frankfurt home of the great collector Louis Koch.) Thank heaven for Leschetizky’s backhanded advice!
One can only wish that Schnabel had had the opportunity to record the complete sonatas. His performances of the three sonatas he did record set a benchmark for all pianists to follow if they wished to play Schubert’s music well: an understanding of the composer’s classic/romantic style, sensitivity to the emotional core of the music, and resistance to the temptation of sentimentalizing it with dragging tempos and exaggerated rubato. Schnabel, with his intellectual and composer’s analytical approach, understood that Schubert’s style in his instrumental works was rooted in classical structure, even as his emotionally romantic nature found a new freedom in other genres. Every pianist playing the B?•Sonata, D 960—and there have been a great many in recent years—should hear how Schnabel interprets the Molto moderato tempo direction in the first movement, and the simple way the opening phrase unfolds and develops. Another aspect of Schnabel’s playing, which is miraculously evident in these recordings, is his control of subtle dynamic and color changes, especially in the softest passages. The slow movement of the B?•Sonata is a perfect example of Schnabel’s absolute command of this music.
The booklet includes a reprint of Harris Goldsmith’s essay written for Schnabel’s centenary in 1982, along with his detailed notes on the individual works played and their recording history.
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