Schubert: Fantasie D.940; Marches militaires D.733; Divertissement à la hongroise D.818

Ykeda Duo (Lontano 2564 690744)

27 July 2009 2 stars

Ykeda SchubertThis all Schubert programme marks the debut on disc of the Ykeda Duo, made up of pianists Tamayo Ikeda and Patrick Zygamonowski. The booklet essay tells us nothing about the works in question but focuses on the story of the two musicians, she a Japanese who came to Paris in 1989 to be taken under the wing of Zygamonowski, a sensitive Frenchman from Bordeaux. It's a tale of finding cultural common ground through music, we are told; they form not only a musical partnership but are also married.

Although I can manage without booklet 'essays' that expound the virtues of the performers on the disc, they can easily be forgiven if the performances are of a decent quality. However, the Duo's way with Schubert is, to my ears, disappointingly unidiomatic and unconvincing. In the two larger works – the Fantasie D.940 and the Divertissement à la hongroise – they stretch out the tempi, performing everything in a manner that saps the music of its energy and masks its unique beauty. There's a strange fussiness and reticence about much of what they do that really impedes one's enjoyment and matters aren't helped, either, by rather soggy piano sound on the recording.

The drawbacks are immediately audible in the Fantasie. Here the off-beats in the accompaniment are often emphasised and there are strange swells in the dynamics and lumpy phrasing. The slow tempo – they take twenty-one minutes in a work that usually comes in around the nineteen minute mark – robs the work of its natural momentum and has the effect of eroding the formal structure. The second section is particularly unsuccessful where the double-dotted chords and rather loose trills are so long as to let the tension dissipate; this starts to sound more like a parody of archaic musical rhetoric rather than a wholly serious allusion to its power. Textures lighten nicely in the 'scherzo' section, but elsewhere Schubert's magical modulations are telegraphed and much of the all-important counterpoint is poorly delineated among the minute dynamic changes. Where textures should be clean and reflect Schubert's taut musical arguments, they are muddy with the performers reluctant to commit to specific melodic strands. As a result the whole performance just sounds fussy and heavy. By the time they rise to an admittedly impressive climax in the final minutes, it's too late.

Matters are rather better in the three Marches Militaires that follow, with the duo bringing a nice heel-clicking discipline to the famous D major, for example. However, its trio is again slow and and pedantic, examplified by the voicing of the Primo's octaves. The other marches suffer from a lack of energy.

The slow tempos for the whole of the Divertissement à la hongroise again make it a performance that's difficult to enjoy. The final Allegretto is particularly hard-hit: coming in just shy of the eighteen minute mark the opening oom-pahs of the accompaniment sound more like the trudging accompaniment of a Winterreise song that the light-hearted introduction to a movement of vitality and invention. Of course one can't take the Divertissement of the title to mean that this is simply a piece of diverting hongroiserie – that Schubertian melancholy is never far from the surface – but the result here is too leaden. That said, I did find the slightly slow tempo for the central Andante con moto rather more successful.

Ikeda and Zygamonowski are obviously very fine musicians and have built up a great rapport as a duo. Their take on Schubert, however, seems to misunderstand the balance between light and dark, between structural discipline and harmonic novelty that defines the composer and his music. As a result, I can't imagine I'll be returning to this disc.

By Hugo Shirley


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