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Briefly Noted: More Schubert on Fortepiano

available at Amazon
Schubert, Impromptus, Op. 90 and Op. 142, Ronald Brautigam

(released on September 1, 2023)
BIS-2614 | 61'47"
Ronald Brautigam is one of this century's leading proponents of the fortepiano, noted in these pages for his traversals of the music of Beethoven and Mozart, among others. His new release is a set of Schubert's eight impromptus -- not including the three piano pieces of D. 946 once known, incorrectly, as impromptus -- recorded on a fortepiano built by Paul McNulty in 2007, modeled on a Conrad Graf instrument from around 1819.

Schubert never actually owned a piano, and his only opportunity to play the keyboard came in the homes of friends. The composer almost surely never heard the particular instrument imitated by McNulty: Graf's opus 318, located in a Czech castle. Ardent admirers of Graf's pianos in the early 19th century included Beethoven, Chopin, Robert and Clara Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Brahms, among others. What you hear on this recording is a likely approximation of the sound in Schubert's ears as he composed and played these arch-Romantic pieces.

Even though a Graf had a smaller sound than the later modern piano, because of its thin soundboard and smaller hammers, its fortes are still resonant, as in the middle section of Op. 90, no. 2, or Brautigam's devilish trills in Op. 142, no. 4. The pianoforte's advantage over earlier keyboard instruments was its range of soft sound: this Graf had four pedals, a sustaining pedal and una corda pedal like the modern piano, but with a moderator and even a double moderator as well. This device pushes a thin layer (or double-layer) of cloth between the strings and the hammers, and it was the pianoforte's "secret weapon," in the words of András Schiff, who once sneered at early keyboard revivalists before making his own Schubert recording on a reconstructed fortepiano. Hearing those soft effects helps one understand what Schubert had in mind when he wrote pianississimo.

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