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Schubert: Impromptus D899/D935

Alexei Lubimov (fortepianos)

ZigZag Territoires ZZT100102
Recorded: 2009, Église Doopsgezinde Gemeente Haarlem

In an interview for Strictly Off the Record Alexei Lubimov, one of the earliest specialists who performs and records on both historical and modern pianos, told me that he believes doing so enriches his interpretations both ways.

Well, his recent Rachmaninov 4th Concerto on South Bank was memorable, and this Schubert disc is one of the greatest fortepiano recordings to date.

We've come a long way since Andras Schiff told a Wigmore Hall audience that "we have been brainwashed into taking for granted that pianos should always be black and made by Steinway". That hasn't changed very much there, nor has it for many piano students; at my local Trinity College of Music "There is hardly anyone asking for fortepiano lessons!" [Head of Piano].

I used to believe, in amateur arrogance, that playing these favourites on my lovely, elderly Schiedmayer upright sounded "right" in a way that famous pianists on modern concert grands often missed. Lubimov and ZigZag took five years in their quest for the right pianos for this project, eventually finding them in Edwin Beunk's collection in Enschede.

This is all recounted in model CD notes which outline a remarkable career, of which this must be one of its finest moments - compact writing but with every word compelling reading.

Lubimov explains using two instruments, Muller/1810 and Schantz/1830 for their different qualities, "the first piece in the second (D. 935) set requires a more extended range in the keyboard," he said, "and since the extra notes are available on the 1830 Schantz fortepiano it makes sense to play that instrument" [BBC Music Magazine].

These are miraculous accounts, perfectly engineered, deeply moving to hear and hear again. One has complete confidence in Lubimov and his way with the instruments, his rubato flexible and never excessive; comfortable, not over intellectualised interpretations.

His will be benchmark recordings of the Impromptus for the remainder of my lifetime; for Schubert's complete piano works, my loyalty remains with Schuchter "on a sweet-toned Bösendorfer, just right for this music" [Tudor 741-752].

Marvellous to be told that in the same series of recording sessions, Alexei (Andrei) Lubimov put down Beethoven's last three Sonatas on a Graf from the same collection; its release is keenly awaited, though here we have the pleasure of the complete Beethoven sonatas on fortepiano already available.

Peter Grahame Woolf

For Lubimov in contemporary Russian repertoire see towards the end of Galina Ustvolskaya and the Piano