I have long enjoyed the piano duets of Schubert, a form he excelled in throughout his life, with his earliest surviving work being the Fantasie D.1, from 1810 when he was just thirteen years old, until the masterpieces in the genre of his final years. Here, at last, we have a reissue of the only fully complete version of Schubert’s works for piano duet, I remember with fondness the original release on the long lamented Olympia label, and here Divine Art must be thanked for resurrecting these fine recordings. I did have two or three of the original releases, which have disappeared over the years, borrowed and not returned, so it is good to have the chance to reacquaint myself with this wonderful set. The original recordings followed a mammoth concert series in which the complete works were performed over seven concerts, with the discs following the program of the concerts and concluding with a Polonaise that Schumann had been inspired to compose as an eighteen year old by Schubert’s example, as an encore. These are intelligently conceived and performed recitals, ones that bring the music [of] Schubert to life.
The first disc opens with the Polonaise in F D599 No. 4, but there is no doubting the star work on the disc, the ever popular Grand Duo (Sonate) in C, D.812. Here some might find the performance of Goldstone and Clemmow too brisk, 36:18 compared with the 47:21 of Eschenbach and Frantz (CZS 569770 2), or the 43:24 of Barenboim and Lupu (download), but there is no doubting the sense of excitement in this performance, with the quicker tempo not overtly detracting from the music.
Disc two opens with the Overture in F minor / Major, D.675, but again the major work steals the show, the Fantasie in F minor Op. 103, D.940, has long been a favourite of mine and here it is given an insightful performance, one that ranks along with the best. That being said, I recently came across the performance by Andreas Staier and Alexander Melnikov on a copy of a Graff fortepiano (HMM 902227), the sound of which is a real eye-opener.
Starting with one of Schubert’s most popular works for piano duet, the Marches Militaires, D.733, disc three also includes Anthony Goldstone’s realisation of the Polonaise in B flat Major, D.618a. Here Goldstone has taken the sketches Schubert composed in 1818, when he worked as a teacher for Count Esterhazy in Hungary, and woven them into a believable and accomplished work whilst completing the trio section. The Schubert section of this disc ends with a rousing and wonderful performance of the Divertissement à la hongroise, D.818.
The fourth disc begins with the remarkably mature work that is the Fantasie D.1, the longest work on this disc, it shows a mastery of the medium that shows a skill that belies Schubert’s teenage years. I particularly enjoyed the performance of the Grande Marche et Trio in D, D.819 No. 4, and the Grande Marche Funèbre in C minor, D. 859, but it is the Variations on an Original theme in A flat Major, D.813 that shines here. Goldstone and Clemmow’s performance is wonderful here.
Disc five begins strongly with a spirited performance of the Grand Marche héroique, D.885, before ending with one of the composer’s most popular works for piano duet, the Duo in A minor ‘Lebensstürme’, D. 947. Here Goldstone and Clemmow are particularly persuasive as in a performance of great style and élan.
Disc six has at its heart a persuasive performance of the Grand Sonate in B flat Major, D.617. This piece dates from 1818, although it was not published, as his opus 30, until five years later; it is central to this concert with the other works seeming to radiate from it. Although the disc ends with sparkling performance of the Grande Marche et Trio in B minor, D.819 No.3 and a thoughtful and well measured performance of the Variations on a Theme from Hérold’s opera Marie, D.908.
The final disc opens with the early Fantasie in C minor (Grand Sonate) D.48, composed between April and June of 1813, the last Fantasie of his school days. This is also an incredibly mature work, a work that shows more than just promise, this is the work of a consummate composer, one who uses the piano to great effect. The final work by Schubert is the Divertissement sur des motifs originaux français, D.823, this is a relatively large scale work which lasts nearly half an hour. Here Schubert takes the French themes and makes them his own; this work is reminiscent of the Divertissement à la hongroise, especially in the way that the composer weaves his own music around the original themes. This is an entertaining work of great colour and imagination and a fitting one to conclude the set with.
Each disc contains an ‘encore’ in the form of a Polonaise by Schumann, and in the case of the final disc, two. Schumann idolised Schubert and is said to have wept inconsolably when he heard of his death. These polonaises occupied the eighteen year old Schumann during August and September of 1828 and were composed in a style that was inspired by Schubert, the resulting eight polonaises only being published in 1933. They are strong works which, whilst showing the influence of Schubert, could only be by Schumann; that being said they do make a fitting set of encores for the discs and the set as a whole. My only other recording of these works is by Peter Frankl and Andras Schiff (CD3X 3001), which whilst it is a sparkling performance, the nearly forty year old Vox sound is beginning to show its age in comparison to this set.
This is a most enjoyable set, one in which Goldstone and Clemmow seem to be totally in tune with each other, which results in excellence throughout the set. The set comes with very good sound and a detailed 40 page booklet (in English only), in which each work is gone in to in detail, this is based on their original notes for the Olympia releases. Whilst editing these a few months ago for this release Anthony Goldstone sadly died, with this set marking his untimely passing as a fitting tribute and memorial to his name and his prowess as an editor and performer.