Alexandre Tharaud returns to Schubert, his lifelong accomplice

Franz Schubert (1797-1828): 4 Impromptus, D. 899; Rosamonde, D. 797 (extracts transcribed by Alexandre Tharaud); 6 Musical moments, D. 780. Alexandre Tharaud, piano. 2021. 71’44. Booklet in French, English and German. 1 CD Erato 0190296599217

In Alexandre Tharaud’s discography, Schubert is prominent. Not so much by the number (this is the fourth album dedicated to him, out of forty), but rather by his consistency, and above all by the obvious affection for the composer that the performer makes us feel.

In 1997, for Arion, he recorded the 6 Musical moments D. 780 (already there Sonata D. 664 and the 16 German dances and 2 Scottish dances D. 783, with a remarkable blend of ardor and sobriety. Then there were, in 2001 and 2006, two albums for Harmonia Mundi where he was no longer alone: ​​four hands with Zhu Xiao-Mei (Hungarian-style entertainment D. 818, Variations on an original theme D. 813 and Fantasy D. 940), all in sensitivity, but willingly muscular; and in unison with Jean-Guihen Queyras in a state of grace, of great class (Sonata for arpeggione, Violin Sonata D 384, transcription of 5 Lieder, as well as pieces by Webern and Berg).

To be complete, we could add the soundtrack ofLove, this film as moving as it is distressing by Michael Haneke (Palme d’Or Cannes 2012), in which he has a small role, of pianist … but that we do not see playing the piano! In the CD (Erato), in addition to works by Bach and Beethoven, he plays 2 of the 4 Impromptu (Nos. 1 and 3) which he takes up again in a new album, which begins precisely with these final masterpieces.

The choice of these Impromptus D. 899, the deeper pieces of the album, could moreover surprise, a priori, to open it (even if the very first chord, which sounds like a death knell, impresses from the start). It is difficult to have something to say after them … But Alexandre Tharaud gives a relatively serene reading, without erasing the feverishness but without accentuating its inexorable character. It will be a matter of sensitivity, of being upset by this rather modest approach, or of feeling frustrated at the lack of gravity. Either way, it allows you not to leave with the feeling that “everything is done”. There may be a sequel.

However, the lightness of what follows may surprise. Indeed, between two cycles desired by the composer, Alexandre Tharaud has chosen to recreate “an imaginary sonata or four unpublished impromptu” by transcribing extracts from the stage music of Rosamonde. If the quality of the transcriptions (much closer to the original than what Leopold Godowsky did) and of the interpretation is undeniable, and if we can understand that the pianist wanted to appropriate these irresistible pieces, it takes several plays to forget the sound of the orchestra. But it’s worth it.

Of course, Alexandre Tharaud had other alternatives, for there is no shortage of small “popular” piano pieces in Schubert’s catalog. But he made this very personal choice, and he put all his sincerity and humility into it. This work recalls his book Show me your hands (2017), in which he showed the same qualities, revealing a certain intimacy, without shamelessness.

Note that if the first three extracts are among the most famous, this is not the case for the last, taken from theIntermission N ° 1, the beginning of which irresistibly recalls the Earthquake final of Seven Last Words of Christ by Haydn.

Alexandre Tharaud finishes (which allows to withdraw in silence) this CD with the Musical moments D. 780, who had therefore opened his first album dedicated to Schubert, almost a quarter of a century ago. If its design has not radically changed, the nuances are more accentuated, with in particular piano and pianissimo softer. And then, the simplicity of 1997 is less: there are more musical intentions (slow motion in particular) in 2021. A reading no doubt not more sophisticated, but more ostensibly moved, in a way. This time, some will embrace this design with rapture, while others would have preferred more sobriety.

With this new album he is dedicating to him, Alexandre Tharaud confirms his affinities with Schubert, which he plays with refined sensitivity, without false modesty. He gives a rather amiable image of it, which all the same upsets the dynamic contrasts, thanks to which this Schubert takes shape.

Sound: 8 – Libretto: 8 – Repertory: 9 – Interpretation: 8

Pierre Carrive

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Alexandre Tharaud returns to Schubert, his lifelong accomplice