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Schnabel: Klavierquintett; Klaviersonate; Lieder

Schnabel / Roelcke / Kamphues
Release Date: 06/25/2013 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777471   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Artur Schnabel
Performer:  Irmela RoelckeFabio MaranoAntonio Pellegrini
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 33 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHNABEL Piano Quintet 1. Three Piano Pieces . Piano Sonata. Three Fantasy Pieces for Piano, Violin, and Viola. 2 10 Lieder. 3 Seven Lieder 3 Irmela Roelcke (pn); 1 Pellegrini Qrt; 2 Antonio Read more Pellegrini (vn); 2 Fabio Marano (va); 3 Sibylle Kamphues (alt) CPO 777471 (2 CDs: 153:28 Text and Translation)

Artur Schnabel (1882–1951) is perhaps best remembered today for his pioneering recordings of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas and his noteworthy if somewhat idiosyncratic edition of those same works; he was, after all, according to Harold C. Schonberg, “the man who invented Beethoven”—at least, for the 20th century. Schnabel was, however, far more than just a world-class pianist: he was, like many famous performing artists of his day, a complete musician. Though born at the end of the long 19th century, he was very much a product of the 20th in his thinking: he always approached his repertoire with a seriousness of intent, searching for the best means to bring out its inherent profundity. One must remember that he only played “music which is better than it could be performed.” Even his famous remark on silences says much about his approach: “The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides.” As a composer he worked in a variety of genres: chamber music (five string quartets, a Violin Sonata, the Piano Quintet), numerous Lieder, and a handful of piano works (a Piano Sonata, a Suite, and a few smaller collections of pieces), in addition to three symphonies, a Piano Concerto, a Rhapsody for Orchestra, and the Duodecimet for chamber orchestra. His style can be quite mixed: some works remind one of late 19th-century music (as the heir to Brahms and Bruckner—a quasi-Franz Schmidt-ian, perhaps?), while others remind one that he was indeed a supporter of much of the Modernist music of his day (he was friends with Ernst Krenek and even took part in some early performances of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire ).

The Lieder, in particular, are all reminiscent of the great composers of that genre from the previous century—the musical language of everyone from Schubert to Brahms and even Strauss can be detected in parts. In choosing similar poetry as his peers—Dehmel, George, Eichendorff, Storm, and Novalis, among others—Schnabel was surely attracted to the evocative imagery, the all-embracing unity of mood, and the musical qualities of the language itself. His accompaniments are deceptively simple, yet so well do they match the meaning of the words and complement the vocalist’s line that each song seems like a perfect little world all its own. One of the finest examples comes in Schnabel’s setting of Dehmel’s poem Dann , a poem which delicately balances the concepts of silence and loneliness with potential hope and the joy of companionship. The performances themselves are more than just workmanlike: it is obvious that the artists have studied and reflected on these scores. They are both in fine form here, though at times Kamphues’s voice sounds a bit strained in tone.

The chamber works are remarkable for their adherence to the past, but also for their embracement of the future, nowhere more so than in the lengthy Piano Quintet. This work, which was recently rediscovered in 2001 after an anonymous parcel package containing the autograph score was mailed from the U.S. to the Berlin Academy of the Arts, is one of his grandest. Lasting almost 55 minutes, it is comprised of a long central Adagio , framed by two shorter, but no less intense movements. The first is orchestral in effect, figuratively lyrical, yet harmonically adventurous—one not only hears the dissonance in certain passages in this movement, one feels it. The instruments are at first used in blocks of sounds, before the writing becomes more integrated. The finale too is long but much lighter in character; one feels the obvious debt to especially the 18th-century masters here. The heart of this work, however, is the central slow movement: it wanders harmonically, each instrument with its own melodically jagged and searching lines, seemingly for some sort of stability. Here one feels the influence of certain Beethovenian slow movements—that of op. 106 in particular comes to mind. The three movements of the Fantasy Pieces for Piano, Violin, and Viola are lighter in mood, more traditional harmonically, more overtly romantic in tone. The pianist plays sensitively throughout these works. One wishes that she had a slightly bigger sound in certain key climactic moments, but she certainly holds her own in these highly demanding works. The members of the Pellegrini Quartet too perform well, though there are moments of slight intonation issues. Regardless, they are proficient players who characterize this music delightfully—strong and powerful at certain times, tender and gentle at others.

Irmela Roelcke is completely by herself in the piano works. She proves to be a very fine guide through some of this extremely difficult music. While the op. 15 Piano Pieces (three pieces curiously made up of Rhapsodie, “Nachtbild,” and Vier (Four!) Walzer) are traditional both in their technical requirements and musical language, they are as demanding as many late 19th-century works. I find the waltzes particularly engaging—it’s not for nothing that Schnabel spent a good amount of time in Vienna! The Piano Sonata, however, poses the true challenge for both performer and listener alike. Broken into five movements, lasting almost 30 minutes total, it is an ambitious work, which was originally premiered by Schnabel’s friend, the great pianist Eduard Erdmann. Its more virtuosic moments are filled with spiky dissonant modernist writing, yet throughout all the surface noise there runs a lyrical streak. The more one listens to this, the more one becomes enchanted with its progression: from the wild first movement, through the calmer, more reflective two slow movements and the playful central one between those, to the concluding quirky dance-like Finale, the composition only begins to make sense when one can follow the narrative from beginning to end. But when that is done, the listener will be justly rewarded. Roelcke is as fine an advocate of these works as one could hope for; in particular, her lyrical playing suits this music perfectly.

So if one only knows Schnabel as pianist, then this is required listening. Even now, many of his compositions are still waiting for the correct forces to perform and record them—CPO seems to be leading the charge (they have also released the First String Quartet and the Notturno as of my writing). And hats off to them for doing such a great job so far in both choosing their musicians and recording them in fine sound! Here’s hoping that one day they will release the complete works of Artur Schnabel, but for the time being, this is one very fine release, one which should make it into your collection without hesitation.

FANFARE: Scott Noriega
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Works on This Recording

Piano Quintet by Artur Schnabel
Performer:  Irmela Roelcke (Piano)
Period: Post-Romantic 
Written: 1915-1916 
Venue:  Siemensvilla Berlin 
Length: 54 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Pieces (3) for keyboard, Op. 15 by Artur Schnabel
Performer:  Irmela Roelcke (Piano)
Period: Post-Romantic 
Written: 1906 
Venue:  Siemensvilla Berlin 
Length: 6 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Waltzes (4) for piano, Op. 15/3 by Artur Schnabel
Performer:  Irmela Roelcke (Piano)
Venue:  Siemensvilla Berlin 
Length: 6 Minutes 38 Secs. 
Sonata for piano in 5 parts by Artur Schnabel
Performer:  Irmela Roelcke (Piano)
Period: Modern 
Venue:  Siemensvilla Berlin 
Length: 28 Minutes 33 Secs. 
Fantasy Pieces (3) for violin, viola & piano by Artur Schnabel
Performer:  Fabio Marano (Viola), Antonio Pellegrini (Violin), Irmela Roelcke (Piano)
Period: Post-Romantic 
Written: 1898 
Venue:  Siemensvilla Berlin 
Length: 10 Minutes 22 Secs. 
Songs (10) for voice & piano, Op. 11 by Artur Schnabel
Performer:  Irmela Roelcke (Piano)
Period: Post-Romantic 
Written: 1899-1901 
Venue:  Siemensvilla Berlin 
Length: 16 Minutes 26 Secs. 
Songs (7) for voice & piano, Op. 14 by Artur Schnabel
Performer:  Irmela Roelcke (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1902-1903 
Venue:  Siemensvilla Berlin 
Length: 16 Minutes 27 Secs. 

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