Duo Pleyel - Schubert: Lebensstürme; Music for piano four-hands - Gramophone

Schubert’s piano duets on period instruments are still – perhaps surprisingly – relatively thin on the ground, so it’s good to have Richard Egarr teaming up with Alexandra Nepomnyashchaya in a duo named in honour of their 1848 Pleyel.

The recital begins with the guileless D major Rondo, D608, a rarity on record, in which the Pleyel’s crystalline treble is shown to good effect. But on this occasion the piece slightly overstays its welcome – Goldstone and Clemmow, at a slightly faster pace, find more wit within it. And there’s further unusual fare in the Sonata in B flat, D617. They bring grace to the first movement but at times the accompaniment seems a touch too prominent, something that also dogs the finale. In between, they opt for a relatively slow tempo for the Andante con moto, giving it a more halting quality than Goldstone and Clemmow.

From the obscure to Schubert’s best-loved duet, the haunting F minor Fantasy. Here the greatest doubts arose, for the haloed opening has little of the magic that the best can find, partly due to an overly prominent accompaniment. Richter and Britten are endlessly subtle at a pretty swift pace, while Lupu and Perahia are for many simply matchless. Here, Nepomnyashchaya and Egarr do have period-instrument competition in the form of Staier and Melnikov on a beautifully husky-toned copy of a Graf (taking us down in pitch). Theirs is a much more reactive account of the Fantasy, from the most hushed moments to climaxes of real violence that bring the music more thrillingly alive than this new version.

However, we’re on surer ground with the remaining two pieces. The transparency and varied tonal colours of the Pleyel are particularly effective in the D951 Rondo, which they imbue with plenty of charm, with a notably warm account of the main theme. Lewis and Osborne favour a greater songfulness, while Pires and Castro imbue it with an urgent narrative – choice will really come down to personal taste. In the A minor Allegro, D947, Duo Pleyel find the drama that has been lacking elsewhere, the contrast with the hushed writing here very telling. That drive is maintained right up to the close, the final two chords ending the disc in a mood of heroic defiance.

01 July 2020