SCHUBERT Works for Four Hands Vol 1
Having recorded Schubert’s complete piano music on period instruments, Jan Vermeulen now launches a cycle dedicated to the composer’s abundant catalogue of piano duets, abetted by his former student Veerle Peeters. Their 1825 30 Tröndlin instrument has a basically gentle sonority that nevertheless conveys power and definition, as well as a wonderful muted quality in softer passages.
The disc commences with an energetic, forward-moving and beautifully thought-out reading of the Lebensstürme duo. The pianists’ sensitivity and stylistic surety masks the three-movement Divertissement à la hongroise’s rambling tendencies, while the instrument’s timbral distinctions particularly hit home, for example in the ‘semi-sustained’ pedal effects in the Andante’s cadenza-like episode or the way the long Allegretto’s tremolos vary in shape and expression, rather than rattle on like a silent-movie pianola. The duo wisely refrain from hurrying the first Marche militaire’s Allegro vivace, allowing the music to breathe without losing excitement. The second march takes on a welcome pomp and grandiosity that contrasts to the dead weight we often get from similarly slow performances, while the third transpires on a grand scale in the manner of an orchestral piece transcribed for piano duet. Here I especially like the elegant transitions between sections by way of the pianists’ slightly elongated up-beats.
By contrast, the closing Deutscher are all about Viennese charm and affection, and Vermeulen and Peeters lovingly demonstrate how to float Schubert’s disarming lyricism in seven blissful minutes. Vermeulen’s informative and well-written booklet-notes add value to a most desirable first instalment that augurs well for this cycle’s subsequent volumes.