P0326. ARTUR SCHNABEL: The Complete Schubert Recordings. 5-Music & Arts 1175 [misnumbered as M & A 1173], recorded 1932-50. Transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 017685117527
"Schnabel’s Schubert recordings have seldom been absent from the catalogues and one can find transfers on any number of individual discs….one can hear, in Obert-Thorn’s work, more passagework detail than before and the pitch correction has meant that the tempo has been accelerated from the very slightly sluggish tempo we have hitherto been used to. Turn to the Moments musicaux and one can hear what precise pitching can do to a performance. No.1 in C is now marvellously quixotic a performance, more so than before in previous transfers, and the open-air treble frequencies have, I would suggest, radically altered our perception of Schnabel’s playing of it.
It’s a similar aural story when one turns to the Sonatas. The familiar teak heavy sonority of his playing of the Andantino of D959 has here been - I won’t say replaced but – modified into a slightly lighter touch; this, combined with retention of upper frequency hiss, means that the sound is freer in the treble. D960 reveals another advantage in M & A’s work – which is the rather greater immediacy of sound in the new transfers. In previous EMI transfers there has invariably been a degree of opacity that has come between the listener and the music making. There’s less in it as regards tonal matters in the middle frequencies but once again a revealing openness at the top is a benefit of the new transfer.
These are a few thoughts regarding the transfers and they will be the most important as regards purchasers. All these sides have passed into the lexicon of recorded history so only a few words will be necessary from me. I seldom argue with Harris Goldsmith’s liner notes but I tilt my lance at him with regard to his dismissive jibe of the Pro Arte Quartet’s “simpering” portamenti. One’s man simper is another man’s affection and I’m happy enough with their Franco-Belgian take on the Trout. Light hearted and airily textured with a leisurely Scherzo is how I’d characterise it. Maybe Goldsmith objects to the Andantino’s scoops but the trills are crisper than crisp and a delight.
Schnabel’s wife Thérèse had always shown profound musicality on disc but by 1932 the voice was becoming frayed and unsteady; there are registral breaks galore and she simply doesn’t have the voice for a song such as “Gruppe aus dem Tartarus”. Notwithstanding the opportunity to hear Schnabel as an accompanist these are imperfect documents of a powerful artist who, at only fifty-six, was yet well past her prime.
The recordings Schnabel made with his son Karl Ulrich are full of splendid tonal variety and powerful sonority and real warmth. There’s a witty diminuendo in the g minor March and a really knowing and successful approach to its companion in b minor where the clipped, détaché phrasing is contrasted with a languorous relaxation.
The Sonata recordings are doubtless too well known to need much ink spilling though one notices again how rhythmically unsteady Schnabel becomes in the opening Allegro vivace of D850. As indeed one notices how slow the Andante sostenuto is of D960 and how rhythmically capricious he could be in Schubert’s Scherzi (as indeed he is here).
All in all this is an impressive restoration of Schnabel’s Schubert and I consider them the finest transfers of this body of work available. Notes by Goldsmith are predictably comprehensive and personal.”
- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWebInternational