Piano duets; Piano Sonata in B[flat], d960; Piano Sonata in G, d894

Schubert: Fantasy in F minor, n940; Andantino varié D823/2; Grand Rondeau D951; Ecossaises  from D145. Emil Gilels, Elena Gilels; DGG

Divertissements D818, 823; Allegro D947; Fantasy in D minor, D940; Grand Rondeau D951. Eschenbach,  Franz; EMI

Piano Sonata in Bb, D960. Lazar Barman; EMI

Piano Sonata in G, D894. Christian Zacharias; EMI


Schubert's keyboard music sounded to Schumann like a kind of language. So the Russians might be I expected to have foreign accents, such as the uncalled-for Gopak thumps in D951. Elsewhere, the  Gilels agilities are more restrained and often finely effective. But their performance seems predictably at its most authentic when the music is least so, i.e. in the selection arranged for four hands from d145. The German duo thus have a great advantage, which can be clearly heard in direct comparison, e.g. of the main theme of the Grand Rondeau. At their rightly relaxed tempo the melody sings in their mother-tongue, their phrasing and intonation are securely at home. Similarly with the soloists. Some native Schubertians can make D960 speak à la  Schumann; the distant left-hand thunder in the first movement like a doom-laden Virgilian omen, as in Winrerreise, the chiming cross-hand staccato in the second like a passing bell, as in Die junge Nonne, and so forth. We hear no such Romantic eloquence from Berman. But though he may arguably miss the noumenal, his playing is certainly phenomenal. Those bell-notes for example are played with a striking detachment that reverberates in the memory; the whole performance sustains the same tone of absorbed intensity. Christian Zacharias sounds entirely convincing stylistically. But he could use a little more rhetoric; the music often seems too plain and unadorned. This may be partly the fault of an edition which leaves off the ornaments, e.g. the turns that grace the melody of the second movement of D894. Yet there they are on the manuscript, displayed in the British Museum for all the world to see except the editor in question. The Gilels disc also raises similar problems; they cannot be without importance, especially if this music truly has ele­ments of language. Interpreters must surely begin with the right text.      


[see also Eric Sams’s essay Schubert’s piano duets]