Jenny Lin

Artur Schnabel: Complete Works for Solo Piano

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The great Beethoven interpreter Artur Schnabel, like many of his pianistic predecessors but few of his successors, was also a composer. He wrote music in many genres, including three symphonies. His string quartets have been recorded from time to time, but this may be the first survey of his piano music. Pianist Jenny Lin does well to identify this lacuna, for arguably Schnabel's piano music reflects his personality as a performer better than does his music in other genres. It has a combination of down-to-earth rhythmic sense, seeming spontaneity (aptly described by annotator James Irsay as "a spontaneity that was the result of long and meticulous planning"), and considerable complexity of thought. The works span Schnabel's life: from his teenage years in the Three Fantasy Pieces of 1898 to the Seven Piano Pieces of 1947, four years before Schnabel's death. Naturally enough, they range from late Romantic styles at the beginning to near 12-tone music (his procedures are never strict) in the later works; the Seven Piano Pieces are miniatures that show the influence of Webern. The music is much better than might be indicated by the comment of Toscanini when he met Schnabel: "Are you really the same Schnabel who wrote that horrible music I heard ten years ago in Venice?" It may not be quite on the level Irsay's cheerleading would indicate (contemporary reviewers, who certainly knew their Schoenberg, were mixed), but it is attractively evocative. Sample the five-movement Dance Suite, which, although quite dissonant, convincingly depicts a developing romance between two of Schnabel's (eventually married) friends. The central waltz spills over its boundaries and goes on for 14 and a half minutes as it embodies the point where things really got cooking. Lin is a fine pianist technically, and she grasps the thread of personality connecting these works. With beautiful sound from Steinway Hall in New York, this is a recommended release, especially for Schnabel fans.

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