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For me it is that last quality that makes the magic of Schnabel's playing. Clifford Curzon, perhaps his most distinguished pupil, said that there were certain technical matters that baffled Schnabel. What they were neither Beethoven nor I has discovered. He can storm at top speed through any Beethoven passagework, so that I wonder if even Liszt would have gone faster. Parts of the 'Waldstein' and 'Appassionata' are almost perfunctory in their virtuosity; but there are wonderful things to come. The start of the F sharp major sonata Op 78, for instance. Here Schnabel's subtlety of touch comes into full play [listen -- 5 62880 2 CD1 track 9, 0:00-1:07].

Schnabel has such impressive command of Beethoven's late period style that I could wish he had treated all the sonatas thus. He knows that Beethoven has to be specially watched when his expression marks stray into German, as they do in Op 90, for instance. The E major finale must be 'Not too fast, and with very vocal style of playing'. Schnabel responds accordingly [listen -- 5 62880 2 CD2 track 2, 0:00-1:14]. Late Beethoven tends to take fugues by the scruff of the neck and shake them till they howl. Not so in the A flat sonata Op 110, where a German direction could say ditto to the Op 90 finale [listen -- 5 62880 2 CD2 track 8, 3:33-4:45].

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Copyright © 14 April 2005 Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt


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