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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Schubert Arpeggione Sonata

I walked into Amoeba Berkeley one rainy day and asked the guy in Classical if he could recommend some chamber music that would match my rainy mood.

He walked straight to the used section and pulled out this CD: Decca Legends, Rostropovich/Britten, Schubert Arpeggione Sonata.

I like chamber music. I'm not an afficionado. I just like it. It sounds better on speakers at home. It's rich and warm. It's moody. It's rewarding.

The thing I like about this recording is that it's very simple and direct. It's romantic, yes. Schubert is. But both performers...Rostropovich and Britten...fully believe that even the simplest phrase is worth playing well and to its fullest. And, well, the Arpeggione Sonata is full of simple, direct and beautiful phrases.

I know I'll sound a fool for saying so...but a bit of cello is almost always the salve for my cosmic wounds. It's just such a wise instrument. At it's highest range, it's still in a register that is far from shrill. At its running gear, it sings with a kind of knowing sadness. And, in the hands of Rostropovich, well...it's a thing of beauty. His sound is just so full...and, yet, never too much.

That is actually the most powerful thing about this recording: its restraint. It is one long ode to control and precision....le mot juste spoken over and over again. It's like someone recalling a love affair from a later point of balance...but not so far removed so that the passion has been drained. Its vantage point is one in which the many days of the engagement...days that later bleed into fewer and fewer recollected moments as time wears on...are all there to be savored with a proportion and a freshness that barely covers just healed wounds.

And in the midst of it all is Benjamin Britten's collaborative piano. My favorite moments of the piece are those in which the piano, which in this arrangement is never given the starring role, has some bit of connective melodic work to do. At these points Rostropovich plucks away in diligent support, and Britten's piano sings and surges forward. Humble. Restrained. Fully playing the accompanying role. Britten's small additions carry more than their share of the weight.

It's a nice disc. It "gets" Schubert. It's not my favorite piece of chamber music. It's not sublime. But it is something different than that. It's self contained. And well worth revisiting from time to time. It's a friend. It doesn't try to be anything it is not. It just is. Workmanlike. Elegant. Without too much affectation.

In this world such friends are well worth making.



  • I just finished listening tot his CD and came across your beautiful piece on the Arpeggione. The piece is not flashy like the Trout but seems to be content to discover happiness amidst restraints. There seems to be moments when it discovers a kernel of happiness in the stream of a gentle sadness. I imagine a young man amidst the colours of new england fall recollect his happy moments with his long parted girl friend - as you said a moments of warmth in a rainy day.



    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:53 PM  

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