Schubert for Two 

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Available at Amazon
F. Schubert Piano Works 4 Hands, M.J. Pires, R. Castro
I thought Hélène Grimaud’s liner notes for her Chopin – Rachmaninov CD were pretty bad, but Maria João Pires’ new CD with fellow pianist Ricardo Castro (Schubert – works for four hands plus sonatas D664, A-major and D784, a-minor) take the cake. The double disc, titled “Résonance de l’Originaire”, contains the most pretentious, abstruse, impenetrable notes you will ever have encountered. Even the re-re translation of my Japan-bought electric shaver’s instructions seem to make sense, in comparison. (“Extra-zip mini-pulley through lever with, then ready for happy sun-shine…”)

The perpetrator, psychoanalyst Loïse Barbey-Caussé, may think me an uneducated ignoramus, but even with two years of psychology (admittedly, many years ago), I cannot make heads or tails out of a sentence/paragraph like:

“A primary sensitivity which would be doomed to the fatal lacerations of intensity in all its implacability, were it not entirely surrounded, enfolded, so that it registers any “impact” only as filtered, sifted. It is not yet a “skin” capable of a certain degree of self-defence.”

I’d like to quote it all, but it would be excessive and cruel. One preceding and five following such paragraphs (only longer) later, and we get the overdue tie-in with Schubert: “Schubert never stopped emphasizing his dream of “community”. He was haunted by it throughout his life. He expresses it directly, consciously in the guise of his almost visceral attachment to all his “brothers and sisters”, in a communion of the soul incorporating either explicitly or as a watermark all his ineluctable need for creativity.”

I almost understood that one… but what does it really mean to express something “directly, consciously in the guise of [an] almost visceral attachment to all [ones] ‘brothers and sisters’”? Do bloggers have an almost visceral attachment to their “brothers and sisters”?

Just to make sure that my sometimes shaky English wasn’t to blame, I read through the liner notes in German (“Er drückte ihn direkt und bewusst in seiner fast irrationalen Bindung an all seine “Brüder und Schwestern” aus,…). It’s only marginally better. French and Spanish are also available – because if Loïse Barbey-Caussé gets credited in the same font size as the artists (at least on the booklet cover), you want the world to be able to read her thoughts.

Perhaps she is a good friend of Mme. Pires’ and her husband Augustin Dumay's and Mr. Castro's – and maybe they indulge in such speculations and discussions on wine- and music-heavy evenings… but I doubt that they help the average (and non-average) listener/reader to truly understand how “Maria João Pires and Ricardo Castro allow us to share their inner belief in this inexpressible element… enfolded together as in a dyad…” But, apparently it “is there as a real resonance, doubtless awakened individually in each, but unified within the enfolding musical context in which they are immersed together, that of the duetto for four hands.”

Couldn’t make it up, if I wanted to. Fortunately, however, the music is extraordinarily delicious. The two sonatas (D784 and D664), played by Mme. Pires and Mr. Castro, respectively, are fine and musical and insightful - if perhaps lacking in the special (and different) qualities that Mitsuko Uchida, Wilhelm Kempf or Leif Ove Andsnes bring to those works. But the works for Piano-Four Hands are truly outstanding. Not only are these gems less often heard and found on record, they are executed with complete dedication and the joy of music making that can only come from collaborative efforts. Whether the Fantasie in f-minor, or the Rondo in A, or the Allegro in a-minor, these two discs - sold for the price of one (given a playing time of just over 90 minutes a wise decision on the part of DG) - are a delightful addition to anyone's collection. And after the initial laugh and disbelief about the liner notes, you don't have to read those again.

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