The familiar opening chord strikes followed by the rising arpeggio that lands with a splash across the barline. Ahh, Schubert!… the lovely Trout Quintet. But something is amiss. No web of strings cushions the twinkling starbursts, no growling double bass supports the whole from the lowest depths. Here and there an ambitious Alberti bass attempts to stand in for the complex texture of the original. We are listening to a two-piano arrangement of what is arguably Schubert’s most extroverted composition – a work of motion, exuberance and contrasting colours made even bolder by the unusual ensemble. While some of the finer details are lost in the translation, the charm of the composition arranged by Joseph Czerny and the exuberance and intelligence of the performance by Goldstone and Clemmow threaten to win over even the most ardent purist. Cognitively the mind can fill in some of the missing sounds and, while the instrumental colours are not constantly shifting, the performers clearly know the texture of the original and communicate the delight they certainly feel at being able, with only their four hands and a keyboard, to actively create the sound of this work.
British piano duo Goldstone and Clemmow present what they dub “Franz Schubert: The Unauthorised Piano Duos” as their third release with the label Divine Art. Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow have already comprehensively tackled Schubert’s four-hand compositions – performing all of them as a series of seven concerts on more than one occasion. Now they have dipped into the vast literature of Schubert transcriptions, serving up a rather eclectic selection of offerings. Presumably having run out of original Schubert compositions, yet still yearning for more, the duo has joined the long tradition of making more Schubert for themselves to play by turning to arrangements and new works based on Schubert’s sketches. The performances are crisp, the ensemble is sharp and the sound is clear and lively. The repertoire is a mixed bag of choices – works by Schubert’s contemporaries Joseph Czerny and Josef Hüttenbrenner alongside of arrangements for two pianos by Sergei Prokofiev and Hungarian Ede Poldini (1869-1957). Goldstone himself completed Schubert’s sketch for a Polonaise and Trio D. 618a; although this track was recorded in 1998, the rest of the pieces were recorded in 2003 at the Church of St. John the Baptist in Alkborough, North Lincolnshire. Rounding out the selections is the Adagio from Schubert’s String Quintet in C, D. 956, in an arrangement by Hugo Ulrich (1827-1872).
Thomas Christensen, in his excellent article about Goldstone and Clemmow’s genre, “Four-Hand Piano Transcription and Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Music Reception”, calls Ulrich “one of the best arrangers of the nineteenth century – and certainly the most prolific… no other arranger found better or more sensible ways to balance the respective desiderata of faithfulness to the score and playability on the keyboard.”. Nevertheless, the liner notes take a decidedly defensive tone regarding the entire project of recording transcriptions in general, but particularly the risk the duo has taken of offending their audience by recording this gem. Goldstone, in the liner notes, states: “Those who love this work – and there are many – may well be outraged that a keyboard arrangement should even exist, and a recording of it may be considered sacrilegious by some. Therefore the extracted movement has been placed at the end of the disc so purists can stop the CD, after over one hour’s music, giving the sensitive listener the opportunity to stop the playback at the end of the [Prokofiev] Waltzes.
How attitudes have changed since 1861 when Carl von Bruyck reviewed the first four-hand arrangement of Schubert’s String Quintet (arranged by August Röse zu Schnepfenthal) in the Viennese Deutsche Musik-Zeitung. Bruyck lamented that the work was not known outside of Vienna, that it had only recently appeared in print, that unfortunately it had not been published in score but only as parts. To him, the publication of the arrangement meant new life for a work that had been as good as dead for thirty years. In this nineteenth-century world, such arrangements of symphonies, concertos and chamber works not only served to introduce music lovers to great works, but also were a means to revisit the work after hearing it performed live.
In the business of nineteenth-century publishing, the arrangement of a work such as the quintet would certainly be more lucrative than the original composition. Popular movements, such as the Adagio from the String Quintet, were often sold individually. Joseph Czerny, the music publisher in Vienna who is no relation to the far more prolific arranger Carl, published the Quintet in A major for Piano and Strings, D. 667 as Schubert’s op. 114. Also a composer who published two sets of variations on themes by Schubert, Czerny himself arranged the quintet for piano duet, as he also did for the two string quartets he published in 1830. He used his arrangement of the “Trout” to advertise his other Schubert publications and also sold the variation movement individually. But apparently purists do not have the same issues with arrangements of the “Trout “ Quintet, nor with the other works on the disc, that they do with the String Quintet.
Like the Czerny and Ulrich, Hüttenbrenner’s Rosamunde overture is intended as a faithful transcription of Schubert’s original and, like Ulrich and Czerny, Hüttenbrenner is willing to change the register of certain passages and make other compromises that may deviate from the model, but make the work more effective on piano. Although not nearly the composer that his brother Anselm was, Josef functioned as Schubert’s secretary in the early 1820s and also arranged Schubert’s First Symphony (D.82) for the same forces in 1819. Since Josef’s arrangement was first published only after 1840, Goldstone believes it was first composed after Schubert’s death. However, it is just as likely that Hüttenbrenner prepared the work in conjunction with its first use as the overture to Die Zauberharfe, premiered in 1820, or its adaptation as the overture to Rosamunde, Helmina von Chézy’s theatrical disaster from 1823, for which Schubert composed incidental music.
Alongside these works that are more or less faithful re-creations of Schubert works, the three pieces that round out the elections involve more creativity on the part of the arrangers, all of which build on their models. Amidst sketches that he used in other four-hand works, Schubert composed the melody of the Polonaise, D. 618a, breaking off in the twentieth bar of the trio. Goldstone, who has also completed Schubert’s “Reliquie” Sonata D. 840 and the Allegretto in C minor, D. 900, crafts a satisfying realization from the fragment, supplying stylistically appropriate harmonies and Schubertian flourishes that testify to his close study of Schubert’s compositional style.
The final two pieces are for two pianos – a more virtuosic medium in many ways that the piano duet – and, while each is based on works of Schubert. Each arranger takes considerable liberties, adding his own voice to the works. Poldini’s Study on Schubert’s Impromptu in E flat major, D. 899 no. 2, is no longer than the original, but is a wonderful treat because of the additions and countermelodies he is able to incorporate into this familiar work. As the contrasting middle section repeats, Poldini integrates flashes of the main theme of the first section as a swirling accompaniment. Upon the return of the main theme, perhaps because the main theme has just figured so prominently, Poldini manages to borrow the fleeting waltz-like second theme from the third movement of the “Wanderer” Fantasy, D. 760, weaving it seamlessly into the Impromptu.
Reminiscent of one of Liszt’s Soirées du Vienne, Sergei Prokofiev’s arrangement of waltzes by Schubert for two pianos probably dates from 1920 and also exists in a version for piano solo. Prokofiev uses the first of the Valses Nobles, D. 969, as a kind of ritornello and between the increasingly complex statements visits a number of Schubert’s other dances, including a selection from the 12 Deutsche, D. 790. Like Poldini, this is more of a virtuoso showpiece. But whereas the Impromptu stays light and humorous, at times the Prokofiev gets rather heavy, especially when he has the pianists play two different dances simultaneously. And the harmonies in the final repetition of the ritornello are all Prokofiev.
Overall, Goldstone and Clemmow provide a nice balance of unusual arrangements on this latest recording. Although originally composed for a variety of different uses, taken as a whole the pieces make a satisfying collection. Perhaps one could question the necessity of recording four-hand transcriptions when so many perfectly good recordings of the original compositions are so readily available. One could even lament that we live in an age when recordings have replaced evenings at the piano, playing the latest in orchestral or chamber work with a partner. Probably any purists who object to the arrangement of the String Quintet should just stay away from this recordings altogether; the rest of us can enjoy it as a marvellous guilty pleasure.