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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Fantasy in F minor, D. 940 (1828) [19:14]
Allegro in A minor, D. 947 LebensstŁrme (1828) [16:21]
Sonata in C major, D. 812 Grand Duo (1824) [43:38]
IsmaŽl Margain and Guillaume Bellom (piano)
rec. L'Atelier Cortambert de la Fondation Singer-Polignac, Paris, July 2012
APART… APO56 [78:57]

The opening bars of the sublime Fantasy, poetically and sensitively played, promise much. About one minute into the piece I began to have tiny doubts about the dotted rhythm, which, if not given just enough weight, can seem a little slack. It's too close to 6/8 for comfort. One gets away with this in the more pathetic minor key, but with the change to the major one skates quite close to banality or at least in danger of seeming matter-of-fact. The fortissimo Largo section begins impressively but I feel the triplet quavers – in spite of being marked with staccato dots – need more substance and weight. Another problem is raised at the new pianissimo melody which follows a bar's silence, as a slight slackening of the tempo contributes to an unwanted suggestion of sentimentality. The Allegro vivace in 3/4 is perhaps a shade quick – certainly dance-like but a little too light. Some may feel that contrast is necessary here but on the other hand sternness is never far away in this fantasy.

Margain and Bellom, each prize-winners, were both only twenty at the time of this recording. Without meaning to sound patronising, I should very much like to hear them play the Fantasy in ten years' time. There is plenty to enjoy in their performance of this late work, and it is surely only a matter of time before more spaciousness, pathos and gravitas enhance their already fine musicianship.

The same general reservations apply to that other late masterpiece, the Allegro in A minor. Turning to the Grand Duo - Schubert himself referred to it as a sonata, so the title is a publisher's whim – I look for comparisons and the nearest to hand is, unfortunately for Margain and Bellom, Richter/Britten in Decca's Britten at Aldeburgh series. Here I feel that Richter and Britten really believe in this piece and throughout they find more dynamic and dramatic contrast, as well as a wider variety of touch. In the opening movement Margain and Bellom are slightly slower but the result is rather bland, even mundane. In the third movement Richter/Britten find a more infectious rhythmic swing, whereas Margain and Bellom are a little earthbound, and their trio has more mystery and magic. Again in the finale the celebrity duo convey more urgency and a truer “vivace”. This Decca CD, which includes the F minor Fantasy, is wonderful testimony to a great duet partnership. The piano duet repertoire, while not enormous, includes several masterworks, and has also attracted many outstanding artists in recent decades. Margain and Bellom will surely – and hopefully - return to these late Schubert works.

The booklet notes - I can find no mention of the author - are brief, good on the background, but including very little about the actual music. The recorded piano sound is very natural.

Philip Borg-Wheeler