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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART, W.A.: Piano Concerto No. 27 / Concerto for 2 Pianos in E-Flat Major / Rondo in A Minor (Schnabel) (1934-1946)
Not long after his February 1934 London Queen’s Hall concert comprising three Mozart concertos, Schnabel made his first recording of a Mozart piano concerto, No. 27 in B flat major, K.595, at the recently opened and well equipped Abbey Road Studios. Completed in one session, this recording is notable not only for the excellence of its sound but for the moulding of the slow movement, taken at a slow tempo, but without any loss of the tension between successive notes or of the coherence of harmonic progressions. Schnabel’s recording of the Concerto for two pianos, with his son Karl Ulrich, is made up entirely of first takes. In the Rondo in A minor, K.511, Schnabel beautifully shapes the phrases and avoids sentimentality or overt intensity of expression.
By David Denton
This recording followed an equally unusual presentation, when at a Queen’s Hall concert in London during 1934 he played three Mozart Piano Concertos, which occupied the full evening. The subsequent recording of the Twenty-Seventh with Barbirolli and the London Symphony Orchestra was made in just one session. It shows the grace, good sense and literal quality he brought to Mozart, the clarity of his playing of the highest order. True, the orchestra is rather large by today’s standard, but Barbirolli obtained much delicacy, the central movement taken at such an expansive tempo that accord between soloist and orchestra is sorely tried. One unscheduled change of pulse I presume comes from a break in the recording session. Made in the new EMI Abbey Road No.1 Studio, Schnabel returned there two years later in 1936 with his son, Karl Ulrich, to record the E flat major Double Concerto. Excellent playing from both, but the LSO with Boult sounds rather boxy. Mozart’s A minor Rondo recorded in 1946 makes a pleasing filler.
Artur Schnabel (1882-1951)
MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 27 • Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra
Born in Lipnik, Austria in 1882, Artur Schnabel was barely ten years old when he began studies with Theodore Leschetizky in Vienna. After his adult début in Vienna in 1897 Schnabel decided to move to Berlin, making his début in that city the following year. As a teenager Schnabel made a living from teaching as well as from performing on tour with instrumentalists, all the while composing music. He performed the Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 83, by Brahms (Naxos 8.110665) with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Artur Nikisch and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, while at the age of 22 he played the same work at his London début with the Hallé Orchestra and Hans Richter. On returning to Berlin Schnabel and his wife, the soprano Therese Behr (1876–1959), became the centre of musical life in the city. During the 1920s he taught at the Hochschule für Musik and toured Europe, as well as the Soviet Union four times and America twice. For the centenary of Beethoven’s death Schnabel performed the complete 32 Piano Sonatas in seven recitals in Berlin and over the next few years repeated this marathon undertaking in London and New York. After a tour of Australia in 1939, rather than return to Europe, Schnabel decided it was safer to go to America, where he taught at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and took American citizenship in 1944. He gave his final recital at Hunter College in January 1951 and died in August of that year.
Although Schnabel played virtuoso repertoire at the beginning of his career, including Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 23, and Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor, he quickly became associated with certain composers, particularly Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. He recorded little Bach and his complete recordings of this composer were recently issued on a single compact disc, (Naxos 8.111286). Of Mozart’s work Schnabel only made commercial recordings of three of the Piano Sonatas and five of the Piano Concertos with the Concerto for Two Pianos. At the beginning of February 1934 he was in London where he performed no less than three of Mozart’s piano concertos in one concert at the Queen’s Hall, playing the C major K.503, the D minor K.466 and the B flat K.595. Then, as now, it was unusual to have three of Mozart’s concertos in one programme, and one review of the concert began, ‘Three piano concertos by Mozart make a monotonous programme, because in the concertos written chiefly for his own playing Mozart’s easy acceptance of the stylistic conventions of his day is more marked than in his other symphonic works.’ It was obviously not too monotonous, however, as the reviewer continued that the concert ‘can be recorded as an evening of unsullied musical enjoyment’. During the same month Schnabel performed both of Brahms’s piano concertos and during April gave a recital with violinist Bronislaw Huberman at the Queen’s Hall.
Not long after his concert of three concertos, Schnabel made his first recording of a Mozart piano concerto, the Piano Concerto in B flat, K.595, on 2 May 1934 at Abbey Road Studio No. 1. Schnabel was in the midst of recording all the Beethoven Piano Sonatas, but he completed the recording of this Mozart concerto in one session where he was joined by the London Symphony Orchestra and John Barbirolli. The concerto was recorded out of sequence, the Larghetto being recorded first, then the first movement, then the last. One possible reason for this could be that the engineers wanted to get the best possible balance and piano tone set by using the right hand piano melody of the Larghetto, which was indeed caught extremely well in the recently opened, well equipped Abbey Road studios – almost to the detriment of the left hand. Schnabel pupil Konrad Wolff wrote, ‘In slow movements Schnabel tried to play as slowly as possible – he explained that the difficulty, contrary to what happens in presto music, increases with decreasing speed – without ever losing the tension between successive notes or the coherence of harmonic progressions. How often he would shout: ‘Take your time!’ His recording of the Larghetto from Mozart’s last piano concerto K.595, shows his faculty of stretching phrases in this way.’ The piano sound in the third movement is a little more distant and reverberant, so it is probable that the microphone was placed nearer the piano for the Larghetto and moved further back for the other two movements. (It should be mentioned that Schnabel used for this recording a Bechstein piano, which has a tone quite different from the Steinway he used for the later recording of the Mozart Rondo). The sliding violins at the opening of the concerto give a rather queasy feeling, but once Schnabel enters things get on track. The moulding of the slow movement’s melody is chastely done: one could apply a comment on Schnabel’s Beethoven playing here, that it ‘was always securely founded on an intellectual basis to which the sensuous and emotional appeals of the music were secondary and consequent’. The last movement is taken at a pace so fast as to make Schnabel scramble over some semiquaver passages, but the overall sense is one of breathless jollity.
On 28 October 1936 Schnabel and his son Karl Ulrich were at Abbey Road Studio No. 1, again with the London Symphony Orchestra, where they recorded Bach’s Concerto for two keyboards in C major, BWV 1061 (Naxos 8.111286). The other work recorded at this session was Mozart’s Concerto for two pianos in E flat, K.365. Karl Ulrich (1909-2001) had made his Berlin début ten years before and went on to perform two piano recitals with his wife Helen Fogel. The recording of the Mozart was straightforward with two takes being made of each side, the issued recording being all from first takes. Again, the last movement is taken at a fast pace, the oboes at the first entry of the pianos having difficulty keeping up.
Schnabel spent the Second World War in the United States and in May 1946 returned to London to give a series of concerts at the Albert Hall, as German bombs had destroyed the Queen’s Hall. He played all of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos in three concerts and also gave three recitals. The last concert was on 1st June and between 4th and 7th June Schnabel recorded at HMV’s Abbey Road studios. The main works were Beethoven’s Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 4, but before this, he recorded Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F major, K.332, and the Rondo in A minor, K.511. When he had played the Rondo at one of the recent Albert Hall recitals, one critic found that ‘such intensity of expression seemed misplaced when applied to Mozart’s delicate Rondo in A minor’, but a work of such intimacy when heard in the cavernous Albert Hall would no doubt have required a certain emphasis of delivery to get it across. Although one contemporary reviewer found his recording less poetic than the one made by Paderewski for HMV in 1937, Schnabel beautifully shapes the phrases and avoids sentimentality or overt intensity of expression.
© 2008 Jonathan Summers
The sources for the present transfers were an American Victor Red Seal “Scroll” label set for the B flat Concerto, a British HMV for the Rondo,
and a combination of prewar Victor “Gold” label pressings
and laminated Australian HMVs for the two-piano concerto.
GREAT PIANISTS • ARTUR SCHNABEL
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major, K.595
London Symphony Orchestra • John Barbirolli
Recorded 2 May, 1934 in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London
Matrix nos.: 2B 6894-1, 6895-1, 6896-1, 6891-2, 6892-1, 6893-2, 6897-2 and 6898-1
First issued as HMV DB 2249 through 2252
Rondo in A minor, K.511
Recorded 4 June, 1946 in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London
Matrix nos.: 2EA 11030 and 11031
First issued as HMV DB 6298
Concerto in E flat major for Two Pianos and Orchestra, K.365
Karl Ulrich Schnabel, piano
London Symphony Orchestra • Adrian Boult
Recorded 28 October, 1936 in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London
Matrix nos.: 2EA 4097-1, 4098-1, 4099-1, 4100-1, 4101-1 and 4102-1
First issued as HMV DB 3033 through 3035
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Special thanks to Nathan Brown, Donald Manildi, Charles Niss
and the International Piano Archives at the University of Maryland
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MOZART, W.A.: Piano Concerto No. 27 / Concerto for...