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Dip Your Ears: Schubert for Two, with Pires and Castro

available at Amazon
Franz Schubert,
Piano Works for 2 and 4 Hands,
M.J.Pires & R. Castro

I thought Hélène Grimaud's liner notes for her Chopin-Rachmaninoff CD were pretty bad, but Maria João Pires's new CD with fellow pianist Ricardo Castro (Schubert, works for four hands plus sonatas D664, A major, and D784, A minor) takes 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-retranslation of my non-existent Japan-bought electric shaver's instructions manual seem to make more 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-defense.

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 [one's] '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 not 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, and Mr. Castro—and maybe they indulge in such speculations and discussions on wine- and music-heavy evenings—but I doubt that they help the average (and nonaverage) 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 a bit 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, 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.

Edit: The Fantasie in F Minor is getting short shrift here, given how extraordinary a recording it is. The work never had want for fine performers, but Pires/Castro indulge in it with a wistful tenderness the like of which I have not before or since. Truly extraordinary and worth seeking the album out for, which is out of print but available as an mp3 or from high-quality download and streaming site Qobuz.

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