Decca's extensive (if not quite comprehensive) Wilhelm Backhaus reissue series from the early 1990s gains a new lease on life via Arkivmusic.com's on-demand reprint program. The present volume stems from 1956 studio sessions, save for the Schubert A-flat Impromptu and Schumann "Warum" encores recorded during the pianist's March, 1954 Carnegie Hall American comeback recital.
Backhaus' intimately-scaled renditions of Schubert's Moments musicaux are antipodal to Rudolf Serkin's intensity and dynamism. The pianist's improvisatory ebb and flow suits No. 1's jaunty melodic ideas, although No. 2's main theme emerges rather plain and uninflected. However, in light of the many mannered interpretations of No. 3 glutting theRead more catalog, Backhaus' simplicity and expressive economy are positively refreshing. So is his straightforward, poker-faced No. 4. No. 5 begins at a turgid, heavy pace, yet Backhaus quickly picks up steam. No. 6 is a bit slow and shapeless, but at least we're spared every repeat under the sun.
Backhaus improvises a little interlude before launching into a rather casually parsed and even flippant account of the A-flat Impromptu. By contrast, the Schumann "Warum" from the same concert demonstrates the pianist's gifts for stretched-out legato phrasing. I prefer the live 1954 Schubert/Liszt Soirée de Vienne to its slightly squarer studio counterpart here, although the 72-year-old pianist's filigree in the A major section is impressively supple. The Schubert B-flat Impromptu's rippling passages take similar wing, and the Valses Nobles boast earthy élan and invigorating accents. But the forthrightly executed Mendelssohn selections need more lightness and sparkle than Backhaus is able to muster. All in all, Backhaus admirers will be happy to add this disc to their collections, even if they may not wind up listening to it often.