Take a close look at the cover picture for this release, and you should notice three extra strings to the side of each guitar. Look even closer, and you will see that these instruments have six playable strings instead of the usual five seen today. Not all such romantic guitars have those sympathetically vibrating extra strings, but such features and the rounded body shape help define the romantic Viennese Guitar. The sound is not hugely different from today’s classical guitar, though there are moments in this recording when you will hear the deliciously subtle spaciousness provided by those extra strings, and the added range of the six-string guitar makes it a fine instrument for taking on transcriptions of piano works such as those heard here.
The guitar was highly fashionable in Vienna in Schubert’s day, and it is known that he owned a guitar rather than a piano. Contemporary adaptations of his music for the instrument exist, and while he appears not to have been much of a player himself the sound would have been highly familiar.
None of the music here will be unfamiliar to fans of Schubert, but there are some nice interpretative decisions by the Morat-Fergo duo that might tempt you to hear them in this new guise. Deliberately electing to limit themselves to Schubert’s more lyrical piano pieces, there are plenty of colourful moments to keep our attention. The third Moment musicaux for instance has its melody in one instrument against an accompaniment on semi-damped strings on the other. Those sympathetically vibrating strings add depth particularly in the lovely low register explored in the Impromptu D.934 No. 2, and giving subtle colour to slower movements such as the Andantino second Moment musicaux. Dynamic contrast is never a problem, the gentler guitar sound given animation and drive in the Allegro vivace from that same set.
The Valses sentimentales are very nice of course, but have more of a salon music/entertainment feel when compared to the more searching emotions of the works that precede them. We’re given a selection of 13 of these pieces, and that’s plenty, even given that many of them are shorter than a minute in duration. The finale here comes in the form of the Impromptu D.899 No. 3, the flowing accompaniment figuration in which works well on guitar, as does the more dramatic excursion of the central section.
This is a very enjoyable recording that presents some of Schubert’s nicest piano music in an effective and authentic-sounding setting. Intonation isn’t always perfect, though this may be a side-effect of some of the keys to which the composer sends the musicians. We’re so used to hearing modern well-tempered Steinways that allowances must be made, and no allowances need really be made for the talented musicianship on offer here. Recording quality and documentation are both excellent.
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