FringeReview UK 2018
Returning pianist Orlando Shamlou performs Schumann’s Arabeske in C Op 18, and the middle of Schubert’s three late sonatas, the one in A major, D959.
Making strange. Perhaps that’s an over-emphasis but returning pianist Orlando Shamlou owns a gift for finding that strange kick of difference in core repertoire, often structurally curlicues, kinks and twists which mark out say early Romantic repertoire before set patterns rendered them apparently more predictable. But this strangeness, this over-emphasis is true of say Brahms in a way it isn’t of gifted minor composers like Robert Fuchs.
Robert Schumann’s Arabeske in C Op 18 fro December 1838 anticipating marriage to Clara Wieck is so gently rippling and slim-seeming you might mistake its brief manner for say Schumann’s earliest published work like the ABEGG variations or Papillons. The Arabeske though attests to all the works in between in its fluency, comparison and the way its insinuating, quiet song-like nimbleness never seems to settle in its sinewy unfolding till suddenly there’s a shift of tempo, and a slow completely unexpected coda. Shamlou’s stated this is his reason for stating it. Yet I’ve never heard it like this before. It’s a revelatory quiet reading turning all that fluidity on its head.
Schubert’s A Major Sonata D959 comes between the stormy C minor and the monumentally accepting B flat major. It’s the one Richter never played and it’s not clear why. Perhaps because it refuses a single direction. It has more variety, more amplitude and sense of Schubert as a composer than the others. It’s less single-minded, sometimes even joyous as well as tragic.
The opening Allegro starts very much in the major, with a two-note the augmented three-note version with this would seem to be the seeding of all the themes, a powerful even optimistic hammering-out of them. But it doesn’t return so much save in the Scherzo obliquely, and at the end. The rising semi-tones foreshadow things more, like the C minor: a spiralling-up of tensions. These are more germs than themes that return throughout particularly at the end of the work. It’s still turbulent but the shadows don’t fall so often as in the two surrounding late sonatas.
The Andantino – so no true slow movement – walks very quietly, singing in a way not totally unrelated to the Schumann we’ve just heard except that it’s in the minor. But it suddenly erupts. Shamlou has the gift of musical disruptiveness; he prepares us for the shocks Schumann and Schubert deliver but they’re still explosive. He lets the moment breathe and his agogic emphases clarify what unusual works we’re hearing. But he can also elicit these shocks with a surrounding tenderness that makes Schubert’s outburst in this more extrovert work all the more tragic.
The Scherzo with its slightly slower Trio is a knuckling speed-ride picking up on the allegro’s velocity with some of the same explosiveness we’ve just heard.
It leads straight into the Allegretto which suggests it isn’t as quick as the opening Allegro, but still fluent, a homecoming of various themes and an affirmative glow as these are married together in an almost rondo-sounding ways it’s lighter-textured and affirmative too. It’s based on Beethoven rondo-finale from that composer’s Op 31/1 in G.
But there’s something extraordinary about to happen. Schubert marks brief pauses which Shamlou emphasizes, the music comes to a halt then starts again. This isn’t just at the end of a paragraph but halfway through the texture. It’s astonishing and I’ve never heard those pauses emphasized like this before. It rally makes new this often-lauded but over-fluently realised last movement, and shows Schubert prepared to break down everything into a sudden harmonic chasm. Shamlou holds the clarity of these as he guides with piano-playing which if anything seems to gain in excitement in these gathering last pages. A revelatory recital.