Monday, December 25, 2017

Schuchter’s Schubert Gets Another Reissue

Between 1968 and 1970 the Austrian pianist Gilbert Schuchter recorded the complete solo piano music by Franz Schubert on a Bosendorfer grand piano in Vienna’s Casino Baumgartner Studio. Finding out much about Schuchter has not been easy. However, the “official website” for BBC Music Magazine has a review by Jeremy Siepmann, dated January 20, 2012, of his recording of the complete piano works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that describes him as “late and barely known.” Given the date, Schuchter’s Schubert project was probably originally released on vinyl and seems to have been given its first CD release by Tudor Recording, based in Switzerland, in 1989.

That release was a box of twelve CDs. At the beginning of last month the collection was reissued, this time in a box with a new cover that sported a detail from Gustav Klimt’s 1899 painting of Schubert at the keyboard:

courtesy of Naxos of America

The new release was both physical and digital. Ironically (if not unpleasantly), seems to be providing only the digital downloads, which have to be purchased separately, one for each CD. Those wishing to purchase the physical box will have to visit and deal with a longer delivery time, as well as currency conversion.

Siepmann clearly had a high opinion of Schuchter’s Mozart, rating him above Walter Gieseking and the more recent Daniel Barenboim but below Walter Klien. Where Schubert is concerned, my own listening has taken in quite a few pianists. My most “historical” recordings are those of Artur Schnabel; and readers are probably aware of my “more recent historical” interest in the recordings of Sviatoslav Richter. When I was writing for, I took a great interest in a series of recordings released by Paul Lewis; and I am currently following the progress of Vladimir Feltsman, having written about the fourth volume of his project this past July.

In that context I feel I can say that it is good to have now a collection the offers “everything in one place,” so to speak. Clearly, there are some compositions that I understand better than others for which I am likely to have stronger opinions. However, I kept an open mind while listening to this collection in its entirely; and I have to say I was never disappointed. I even appreciated the extent to which Schuchter chose to distribute the collections of dances across several different CDs, recognizing that even the most sympathetic listener might begin to tire of too much of a good thing.

I would, however, like to single out my interest in Schuchter’s approach to the D. 850 sonata in D major. I have heard this sonata in concert, as well as on recordings, enough times to recognize that many pianists take the Allegro vivace tempo marking for the first movement as an invitation to jump into the heart of a whirlwind. I can appreciate wanting to do this on a modern instrument; but I still have to wonder if Schubert had really intended such a rough-and-tumble effect on any piano that he would have been playing. Schuchter is more deliberate than most in his approach. The result is that, while his allegro playing may be less “vivacious,” the listener has an opportunity for greater awareness of just what Schubert had in mind when putting his marks on the paper.

While I like to remind readers of Aristotle’s warning that one swallow does not make a summer, I have to confess that Schuchter’s attentiveness to D. 850 reinforced my confidence in his approaches to all of the remaining selections in this collection!

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