Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is the kind of release that is fully worthy of a major label like RCA: two of today's top artists working at peak form, delivering the goods in a serious program of worthy repertoire. Schubert is one of the few composers whose range is wide enough to allow the creation of a rewarding evening devoted just to him, and his piano duos (here played on two pianos rather than by two pianists at one keyboard) live in a world all their own. Evgeny Kissin has done some of his best work in Schubert (the "Wanderer" Fantasy, for example), and James Levine, no slouch as a pianist himself, clearly loves this music as much as anyone. The program includes three of Schubert's very greatest works in the
medium, all of them dating from the end of his brief life.
The earliest is the Grand Duo, really a symphony that Schubert never got around to scoring (the most famous orchestral arrangement is Joachim's, and it deserves to be a repertory piece). Much of the writing is extremely orchestral in conception, which means unpianistic, and the trick here lies not so much in making the piece sound like piano music (who cares, really?), but simply in focusing the listener's attention on the ongoing symphonic musical process. Key to this is timing, and here Kissin and Levine don't set a foot wrong. The first movement perfectly balances "allegro" with "moderato" in an unbroken arc of sustained tension, perhaps inspired by the presence of the very well-behaved Carnegie Hall audience. A beautifully shaped andante leads to a boisterous scherzo, its interesting harmonic underpinning unobtrusively highlighted where necessary (using two pianos probably helps here). You only need listen to the closing bars of the finale, music that often sounds too thin on the keyboard, to understand just how perfectly timed this performance is.
The Grand Duo occupies the second half of this concert. The program begins with a subtle, fluid account of the haunting Fantasie in F minor. It's interesting how performers who can seem affected when playing solo (as Kissin sometimes does) behave themselves when working in an ensemble situation. Here, the lovely opening theme has the right elegiac simplicity, the final fugue great clarity and rhythmic point. I'm not giving up such favorites as Perahia/Lupu in this music, but Kissin/Levine offer an interpretation that's really very affecting. And their ferocious take on the "Lebensstürme" Allegro D. 947 is just plain thrilling--a turbulent, clenched fist of a performance that brings the first half of the program to a grandly passionate conclusion. Indeed, taken as a whole, the first part minor/second part major cast of the whole evening works extremely well as an emotional sequence for continuous listening.
The two encores, Characteristic March No. 1 D. 968b and the inevitable March Militaire No. 1 D. 733, are played much more quickly than the music requires, but then the point here is simply to wow the audience, and I'd be the last person to deny Kissin and Levine a bit of fun after such a long and tiring program. RCA's engineers also deserve credit not just for leaving out the audience (even though there's a good bit of applause around and between works), but also for finding a sonic framework that minimizes clatter while maximizing clarity. The two-piano (or piano duo) medium can come across as overly thick and unpleasantly dense, but the slight dryness of the acoustic seems just the ticket in this case. In short, what must have been a splendid live event has been captured for posterity with total success. You might prefer this or that version of individual works, but taken as whole this is pretty special.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Fantasy for Piano 4 hands in F minor, D 940/Op. 103 by Franz Schubert
Evgeny Kissin (Piano),
James Levine (Piano)
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 05/01/2005
Venue: Live Carnegie Hall, New York City, USA
Length: 18 Minutes 45 Secs.
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