The question whether it is valid to rework an original piece can in principle be answered in the positive. For one thing because an accused is innocent until proven guilty. In this context guilt would lie quite simply in the reworking being superfluous. Because who needs a reworking if the original is sufficient? There is more than one example to the contrary to show that it does not have to be like that – the overwhelming majority of listeners only know Mussorgski’s Pictures at an Exhibition from Ravel’s orchestral treatment, not from the original for piano. The same is true of Schönberg’s reworking of his own string sextet Transfigured Night for string orchestra. We could continue the list of positive examples, just like the list of the ones deemed negative. What is the position now with Joseph von Gahy, Schubert’s friend and piano partner, and his unauthorized re-writings thirty years after Schubert’s death? Does this world-first recording give us superfluous transference or an enriching treatment?
It has to be said first of all that no criticism can be levelled at the musicians. The well-proven duo (and married couple) Caroline Clemmow and Anthony Goldstone again show class in their treatment of Schubert. The first recording contains among other things a 4-handed version of the Trout Quintet by Joseph Czerny, as well as the Overture to Rosamunde. Both CDs are published by Divine Art. The duo are very expressive and more than masterful. With apparently playful ease they manage the elaboration in clear lines. Often it sounds as if one person is playing with four hands, without it ever being too uniform or homogeneous. Particularly in the pieces originally composed for string trio they seek out the dialogue, that to and fro of phrases between two musically equal partners.
However, if you ask whether the selected works add any value to the repertoire, the answer has to be more ambivalent. Almost symphonic in its extent is the 35 minute long B major trio for violin, cello and piano, D898, one of Schubert’s best known chamber pieces, which constitutes the first part of this recording. And the string trio as a piano duo does indeed work very well at first, particularly as the original number of four voices is retained. Even the triumphal opening of the first movement works, with the string players not missed at all. But the longer you listen, the stronger becomes the impression that this treatment loses compared with the original. It is true that the harmony is clearer on piano alone, but the vocal passages come out with less complexity, and the shape seems less well developed.
The dialogue so important for a string quartet must of necessity be lost because of the piano’s single tone. And even Goldstone and Clemmow’s sensitive and excellent playing cannot alter the fact that the overwhelming part of the of the trio was written precisely for string players. In the original the piano only rarely takes the lead, for the most part it acts as accompaniment. So the substantial fidelity to the original which Gahy’s reworking has retained, while commendable, is at the same time a weakness. What is expressive on the cello and the violin comes through on the piano, while still interesting and pleasant, as more meagre and ordinary. Many passages barely work in themselves as they do on a string instrument, rather their linking role is revealed. In the first movement it is the cantabile second theme and its elaboration which are weaker than in the original. In the second movement it is the principal theme, whose form cries out for the cello.
However dubious the impression left by these treatments of the B Major Trio, this changes markedly in the second part of the recording – the reworking of the A Minor Sonata D821 for Arpeggios, an almost forgotten guitar and cello hybrid, in which the piano brings out a real sense of happiness to go with its commendable rarity value. Not a single bar prompts the question how the original might have sounded, for three reasons: Firstly, almost no-one knows the original; secondly, this is the great Schubert! thirdly we can obviously thank Gahy’s successful treatment. The extremely dance-like and poetical first movement captivates by its alternation between quiet minor and loud major passages. Generally speaking, in this small sonata the contrast between the themes is a more fundamental component than in some other Schubert sonatas. A profound adagio intermezzo leads up to the fine allegretto final rondo.
The recording ends with a genuine, un-reworked Schubert duo in scherzo style, the Rondo in D Major D608, where Caroline Clemmow and Anthony Goldstone once more demonstrate their sparkling skills.
Only the second half of this CD can be recommended unreservedly, but that can be done with a clear conscience. Anyone who does not yet know or own the B Major String Trio should get the original, not the reworked version. Lovers of the piece, or the simply curious on the other hand, need not hesitate to buy this, on account of its flawless interpretation.