I first heard Alexandre Tharaud play Schubert in Michael Haneke’s award-winning 2012 film Amour. His performances of the composer’s C minor and G-flat major Impromptus and Moment Musical No. 3 also appeared on the film’s soundtrack CD. The pianist has now recorded the full D. 899 and D. 780 cycles, along with his own transcriptions of Schubert’s music from the ballet Rosamunde. His treatment of the latter basically transforms the original orchestrations into plausible Schubert piano originals. Indeed, if Tharaud attempted to pass his transcriptions off as rediscovered movements from long-lost Schubert piano sonatas, we’d be none the wiser.
His interpretation of the C minor Impromptu is now faster and simpler, yet more powerful and assertive, with a driving impetus that still allows for lyrical repose when needed. It may be the modern performance that comes closest to Artur Schnabel’s paradigm of dramatic intensity. Tharaud shapes the E-flat Impromptu’s rapid right-hand triplets as a series of vocal lines, as opposed to a seamless chain of pearls in the Perahia manner. Some may feel the central minor-key episode too angular and abrupt.
While Tharaud plays the G-flat Impromptu with greater freedom and textural diversity than before, I slightly gravitate toward the 2012 recording’s steady restraint and more full-bodied sonics. Yet the pianist’s A-flat Impromptu takes ravishing and rippling wing; I’ve rarely heard this piece played better.
Likewise, Tharaud breathes new life into the Moments musicaux.
His brisker than usual No. 1 abounds with rhythmic inflections that illuminate phrase structures and dissipate the bar lines. His lyrically lithe phrasing keeps No. 2 afloat, revealing the music’s barcarolle-like nature. As much as I enjoy the pointed bite of Tharuad’s 2012 F minor No. 3, the remake’s newly pared-down expression draws more attention to the composer than to the pianist.
In No. 4, most pianists play the Bachian outer sections with varying degrees of vehemence, while softening up for the Trio. Tharaud does the exact opposite, and it totally works. He deftly varies No. 5’s persistent dotted rhythms by means of voicing, dynamic contrasts, and accents, and imbues the final selection with pliable grace and fluidity; his songful rendition sounds faster than its eight-minute duration suggests.
Tharaud’s Moments musicaux deserves a place alongside the Clifford Curzon, Emil Gilels, and Alfred Brendel analogue Philips reference editions, while his Impromptus deserve serious consideration as well, not to mention his fabulous Rosamunde arrangements. I hope Schubert and Tharaud will extend their inspired partnership to include the Impromptus D. 935.