Sunday 21 September 2014

Schubert piano duets

Schubert Fantasia in F minor and works for piano duet; Marco Schiavo, Sergio Merchegiani; Decca
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 10 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Survey of Schubert's piano duet music by two Italian pianists

This disc from Italian pianists Marco Schiavo and Sergio Marchegiani surveys Schubert's writing for piano duet with Allegro moderato and Andante D968, Four Landler, D814, Deutscher Tanz with 2 Trios and Landler D618, Introduction and variations on an Original Theme D9681 (603), Eight Variations on a French Song D624, and Fantasi in F minor D940

Marco Schiavo studied at the Conservatory of Avellino and made his international debut in 1992. Sergio Marchegiani was born in Alessandria and gave his first solo recital at the age of 10. Here they join forces for Schubert's music for two pianists at one piano.

Schubert wrote piano duets  throughout his life. Partly this was because it was what everyone did, piano duets were part of life and a safe and friendly means of contact. Making the acquaintance of the pianist Joseph von Gahy in 1817 led to an increase in Schubert's interest in the genre. But Schubert's works for piano duet fall into a variety of characters, there are the social dances of course but also the works in which he seems to be working out interesting structural problems. The piano duet as a crucible for his developing talent. There are also works which seem to have been conceived in a bigger form; a work like Miriam's Siegesgesang for soprano, choir and piano duet seems to have grown out of his interest in the work of Handel and you can almost hear the orchestral music underneath.

This disc surveys Schubert's entire output, so the recital starts with his Allegro Moderato and Andante which dates from 1812 when he was fifteen; probably the first two movements of an incomplete sonata. Landler D814 of 1824 were conceived of as dances, not so much to be danced to as listened to and played as a social experience. Next come two sets of Variations on an original theme D968 and the Variations on a French song D624 (1818). Finally there is the great Fantasia dating from the last year of Schubert's life. Schubert spent two summers (1818 and 1824) teaching the daughters of Count Esterhazy, Marie and Karoline, and the Fantasia is dedicated to Karoline

In the Fantasia the two pianists play with a lively and easy immediacy, whilst giving a strong sense of clarity to  Schubert's more poetic movements. Their playing has a nice neo-classical feel, this isn't just Schubert the big soppy romantic, though elements of this are there. There are also plenty of moments, as in Miriam's Siegesgesang when you can hear Schubert's interest in Handel other music of an earlier era. The big Fantasia has some lovely poignant moments and his highly evocative.

The remainder of the items on the disc are all admirably played, but I have to confess that they do not hold my attention the way the Fantasia does. The dances are a little bit too dance-like for my taste and the two sets of variations seem to be attractively popular rather than mining the vein of melancholy that the Fantasia does. But it is clear that in all the items the players seem to be having a great deal of fun, the sets of variations in particular have a lovely verve.

The CD booklet is frustratingly light on information. There is an informative, if flowery, article on Schubert and the music on the disc. But there are no artist biographies and no information as to whether theirs is a regular partnership or one formed for the occasion; both clearly have extensive solo careers. Also, the recording locations elicit some interest, the disc being recorded in Singapore and Kazakhstan

Quite how you view this disc will depend on how you view the earlier pieces on the disc

Franz Schubert (1797  - 1828) - Allegro moderato and Andante D968 [8.03]
Franz Schubert (1797  - 1828) - 4 Landler D814 [2.27]
Franz Schubert (1797  - 1828) - Deuscher Tand with 2 Trios and 2 Landler D618 [5.33]
Franz Schubert (1797  - 1828) - Introduction and Variations on an Original Theme [10.39]
Franz Schubert (1797  - 1828) - 8 Variations on a French Song D624 [13.20]
Franz Schubert (1797  - 1828) - Fantasia in F minor D 940 [19.57]
Marco Schiavo (piano)
Sergio Marchegiani (piano)
Recorded March 2013 - Music Recording Studio, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, Singapore; November 2011 - Organ Hall, Kazakh National University, Astana, Kazakhstan
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