Schubert: Arpeggione (CD review)

Also, music by Debussy, Britten, and Schumann. Gautier Capucon, cello; Frank Braley, piano. Erato 50999 9341582 8.

 A booklet note tells us that “The arpeggione, a cross between the guitar, cello and bass viol, owes its moment of glory to Franz Schubert. Something of a hybrid, this fretted six-stringed instrument, devised by the Viennese instrument maker Johann Georg Stauffer in 1823, was held between the knees like the viola da gamba. It has sometimes been described as a ‘bowed guitar,’ ‘guitar d-amore’ or ‘guitar cello,’ but the name ‘arpeggione’ had its origins in the ease with which the instrument could be tuned (E, A, D, G, B, E, like the guitar), and played in arpeggios.”

Only, after all that, we don’t get the instrument on this disc. Gautier Capucon plays Schubert’s Sonata in A major for Arpeggione and piano, D.821 (the piece usually referred to simply as the Arpeggione, after the featured instrument) on the cello, since the original arpeggione had a heyday of only about ten years; with the exception of a very few recordings using reconstructed arpeggiones, musicians have performed the music on the cello since the mid nineteenth century. Pianist Frank Braley accompanies Capucon on a modern Steinway D-274 piano, and together the musicians make the piece come to life in innocent splendor, regardless of the instruments used.

The Arpeggione is basically a happy and optimistic occasion, typical of Schubert, meaning it's charming all the way, especially as Capucon and Braley do it up. After a brief slow introduction, the Allegro moderato quickens in pace considerably; however, because the tempos change from moment to moment, things never become either dull or hectic. Capucon has the lovely main theme to play with, weaving it comfortably in and around Braley's accompaniment.

The whole piece is wonderfully melodic, and the players insist upon the most lyrical interpretation, while still keeping the music lively and Romantic. By turns the opening movement can be poetic, energetic, introspective, wistful, sentimental, vigorous, and beautiful. Although Rostropovich long ago made one of the most-famous recordings of the work, I think I like this one just as well, particularly as it sounds even better recorded.

Anyway, after so favorable a start, the Arpeggione continues with a lovely if somewhat melancholic Adagio. This central movement does not last long, though, and before we know it we're into a hearty, good-natured final Allegretto, which Capucon and Braley move along briskly. There's a spirited freshness about their playing that makes the whole affair not only comfortable but downright intoxicating. It's a most-pleasant arrangement.

Coupled with the Schubert are short works for cello and piano by Robert Schumann: Five Pieces in Folk Style (varying from humorous, Gypsy-like tunes to innocent lullabies); Claude Debussy: Sonata for Cello and Piano (stormy, moody, and dreamlike); and Benjamin Britten: Sonata in C (expressive, anguished, and soulful). Here, Capucon and Braley maintain the same high level of artistry, virtuosity, and concentration they did before, even if I didn't think the music itself was as completely delightful as the Schubert.

Erato producer Michael Fine and engineers Jin Choi and Pierre-Antoine Signoret recorded the music at Markus-Sittikus-Saal, Hohenems, Austria, and Salle Colone, Paris (Schumann) in 2012 and 2013. Miked at a moderately close distance, the sound radiates a pleasingly natural ambient glow, both instruments clear and clean yet always with a warm resonance present. Neither instrument upstages the other, both sounding rich and sweet and dynamic in its own way.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa