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CLASSICAL  May 2006

CLASSICAL May 2006

Subject:

Kissin, Levine and Two Hamburg Steinways

From:

Donald Satz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 5 May 2006 23:26:17 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (75 lines)

   Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
      Piano Music

Fantasie in F minor for Piano Four Hands, D940 [18:45]
Allegro in A minor for Piano Four Hands, D947 [15:17]
Sonata in C for Piano Four Hands "Grand Duo", D812 [40:47]
Characteristic March No. 1 in C, D968b [6:02]
Military March No. 1 in D, D733 [4:39]

Evgeny Kissin, piano
James Levine, piano
Recorded Live, Carnegie Hall, New York City, 1 May 2005
Released February 2006
RCA Red Seal 69282 [2cds - 85:30]

Comparisons:
Fantasie in F minor - Perahia/Lupu/Sony
"Grand Duo" & Military March - Barenboim/Lupu/Teldec

The Music - Schubert composed his four-hand piano music primarily for
domestic enjoyment with his friends.  The masterpiece among these works
is the sublime and emotionally throbbing Fantasie in F minor, although
the most popular is the Military March No. 1.  Likely the most interesting
four-hand work Schubert composed is his "Grand Duo" which has such a
strong symphonic conception that it even fooled Robert Schumann who
thought it was an orchestral symphony transcribed for four-hand piano.
As noted in the heading, the work lasts about 40 minutes; it is in four
movements and only the 3rd Movement Scherzo and Trio (about 5 minutes)
might be considered concise.  Despite valid accusations that the "Grand
Duo" is too long for its basic material, the work does contain some
wonderful melodies and the patented Schubert singing style.  Also, the
4th Movement Allegro vivace will remind many listeners of the bold and
brash Beethoven.

The Performances - Schubert's four-hand piano music was written for two
performers at one piano. Kissin and Levine take a different approach
by playing two Steinways, and the results are revelatory.  In effect,
the performances possess an intensity and fullness of texture not found
on alternative recordings.  Of course, Kissin and Levine play a major
role, as they give power-house interpretations emphasizing the dark
colors and friction of Schubert's music.

Sonics - Exceptional from the top notes on down, with the bass line being
particularly well projected and detailed.  Such impressive bass response
enhances the dark nature of the performances.

Alternative Versions - There are more than a few alternative recordings
devoted to Schubert's piano four-hand music, and the two I favor most
are the comparison versions listed in the heading.  Although the Fantasie
of Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu has long been my favorite, I now have
to give top place to Kissin and Levine; their greater drama and emotional
intensity pays major dividends in this soulful work.  With Barenboim and
Lupu, the results are not as easily determined.  Kissin and Levine offer
a more poignant 2nd Movement Andante in the "Grand Duo", but their 3rd
Movement Scherzo is rather heavy and the famous Military March could use
greater rhythmic lift and fluidity.

Any Controversial Items?  - One, and it revolves around the issue of
intimate vs. public performance styles.  As I indicated earlier in the
review, Schubert wrote his four-hand piano music for the drawing-room,
not the concert hall.  In this sense, Kissin and Levine are going against
the grain in selecting this music for a Carnegie Hall concert, in selecting
to play two pianos, and in selecting to intensify the emotional heat of
the scores.  Simply in terms of musical engagement, I find the public
and intense approach quite successful.

Don's Conclusions: I strongly recommend Kissin, Levine and their two big
pianos to all Schubert piano music fans except those who must have the
four-hand works in an intimate setting.  Some of you might look at Kissin
as sometimes mannered and wayward, but I assure you that he behaves
himself at all times in his fruitful partnership with Levine who is
an exceptional pianist in his own right.

Don Satz
[log in to unmask]

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