FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
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Code: CYBELE SACD 140402
|Piano Sonata in A minor D 845
Piano Sonata in A major D 959
In the late 1970s, when I was a young piano student, I was treated to a spectacular performance: a fortepiano recital by an esteemed Austrian pianist, a pioneer in the revival of this instrument. The grand piano was, as I learned from an LP made around the same time, an 1815 Brodmann from Vienna, a model with 5 pedals. In addition to the “sustain” and “forte” pedals, it had a “moderator” pedal, a “bassoon stop” (using parchment, producing an effect similar to wires on a side drum) and a “janissary stop”, which imitated the sounds of the Turkish military’s drums, bells and cymbals.br>The concert consisted of two works by Beethoven (opp. 90 and 126) and two by Schubert: Moments musicaux and the grand sonata in B flat major, D 960. The performer enlivened the mood of the evening with his temperament and Viennese swagger, commenting on not only the works on the program, but also the instrument itself and his ideas about authentic performance practice.
I only vaguely remember the impression these sounds left on me; likely, the music seemed rather curious or scurrilous. My reaction to this first encounter with “original sound” vacillated between surprise and fascination. As the pianist closed the night with Mozart’s „Rondo alla turca“, complete with much crashing of the “janissary stop”, doubts about the seriousness of the entire event plagued me ...
At the time, “historical performance practice” or playing on “original instruments” did not have the same degree of understanding that they enjoy today. As a novice, the results seemed strange and mildly suspicious to me; somehow I could not refrain from the impression that some deficiency became a virtue here. The specific charms of the idea, as well as of the instrument itself, had yet to reveal themselves to me. For a long time, this remained my only encounter with this manner of interpretation.
Not until some 20 years later did I listen with mature wisdom to pianists such as Andreas Staier and Malcolm Bilson – and then the connection between instrument, repertoire and pianistic history made sense!
My first personal contact with a fortepiano happened in July 2004 and the instrument was the wonderful J.B. Streicher model heard on this recording. I accepted an invitation to play Schubert’s A major sonata, D 959 as a demonstration of this restored piano. The first time I touched the keys was a near shock! In the course of my studies, I was always told that old instruments had a very light mechanism, so I was very much surprised to discover how much power is needed to elicit sounds from within the instrument. Indeed, the full bodied sonority of the instrument was striking: its warmth in the treble keys, its powerful bass, matching its size, and its pronounced middle register. However, the notes did not reliably sound as I intended, especially when played piano (the aforementioned “moderator” – a piece of cloth placed between the hammers and strings, thus producing a very delicate, somewhat nasal tone – was obsolete by 1848). Understandably, I had mixed feelings when I performed Schubert’s great sonata on this instrument three days later. This performance showed me how the instrument’s inadequacies could hinder me in performance, or so I felt then. To my surprise, the audience was completely enchanted by the sound!
From this experience grew the idea of presenting the beautiful and impressive sound of this grand piano to a larger audience in the form of an SACD recording.