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CD Review

Franz Schubert

Piano Music

  • Impromptus in C minor, D. 899/1 (Op. 90)
  • Impromptu in E Flat Major, D. 899/2 (Op. 90/2)
  • Impromptu in G Flat Major, D. 899/3 (Op. 90/3)
  • Impromptu in A Flat Major, D. 899/4 (Op. 90/4)
  • Impromptu in F minor, D. 935/1 (Op. posth. 142/1)
  • Impromptu in A Flat Major, D. 935/2 (Op. posth. 142/2)
  • Impromptu in B Flat Major, D. 935/3 (Op. posth. 142/3)
  • Impromptu in F minor, D. 935/4 (Op. posth. 142/4)
  • Piano Sonata #16 in A minor, D. 845 (Op. 42)
  • Piano Sonata #13 in A Major, D. 664 (Op. 120)
  • Piano Sonata #21 in B Flat Major, D. 960
  • Fantasia in C Major "Wanderer", D. 760 (Op. 15)
Lili Kraus, piano
Vanguard OVC8200 3CDs
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A female pianist colleague of mine welcomed a recent Pearl reissue of the Hungarian pianist Etelka Freund (1879-1977) playing the Brahms F minor sonata, saying that it was a joy to confront big, virile playing from a woman of that generation. Similarly, the late Hungarian born Lili Kraus' large-scale, muscular approach to Schubert sweeps away any mental image one may have of the composer as a cherubic, lovable keewpie doll. Under her knowing and imaginative hands, the Impromptus are stripped clean of drawing room varnish and rendered with unbridled vigor, sometimes excessively so (as in the Eb, D. 899, #2, or the too fast for comfort #3, with a curious F natural in the left hand at measure 11 instead of the more usual, and better-to my ears-F flat).

The A Minor, D. 845 (Op. 42) Bb, D. 960 (Op. Posth.) Sonatas, and the Wanderer Fantasy emerge as desperate tone poems, in which the pianist's angular phrasing brings out the subtext of Schubert's extraordinary harmonic progressions, both sweeping the listener along and keeping him on guard. In her epic treatment of the great posthumous Bb sonata, details such as the triplet repeated note in the first movement take on rare urgency and emotional force. I am also struck how the often overlooked linear aspects of Schubert's writing are revealed through the weaving interplay between Kraus' ambidextrous hands, especially as the fugue of the Wanderer Fantasy reaches its climax. For my taste, the "little" A Major sonata, D. 664 (ye olde Op. 120) comes across too brusque and over-intense for a work that is essentially sunny and lyrical: I prefer either Richter, Tagliaferro, Hess, or Solomon – the latter long overdue for reissue. Vanguard's 20-bit transfers have more detail, body, and true sense of dynamics than the LPs.

Copyright © 1996, Jed Distler