Franz Schubert, Arpeggione Sonata.

“Taken as a whole, this is a fascinating disc, well worth hearing for Daly’s outstanding lyricism and command of his instrument” THE ART MUSIC LOUNGE—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley


He never gets bogged down in the “heavy” bass sound one hears from so many other performers on this instrument” THE ART MUSIC LOUNGE—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

If Schubert (1797-1828) had not written this sonata, no-one except music historians would have heard of an instrument called the arpeggione. Invented in 1823 by Viennese guitar-maker Johann Georg Stauffer, the arpeggione had six strings, was tuned and fretted like a guitar, held between the knees and bowed like a cello. Like many such hybrid instruments, it hada short life, mainly because it was awkward to play and its small sound meant that it was easily overpowered by an instrument such as the piano.

Schubert wrote his sonata, which proved to be the only major work for the instrument, for Vincenz Schuster, a guitarist in his music-making circle. Nowadays the sonata enhances the repertoires of viola-players, cellists and bass-players, but it also has been transcribed for various other instruments including the flute and the euphonium. Unusually, the wistful opening theme is a 9-bar phrase, further extended when repeated by the bass.

The second theme of this sonata-form movement is lighter in character, bars of semiquaver patterns alternating with octave leaps. In the development Schubert makes much play with the semiquaver groups, with imitation in the piano left hand. Although the coda introduces a suggestion of pathos, this sonata is essentially elegant and diverting, and does not approach the profundity of Schubert's late string quartets and piano sonatas.

The central Adagio in E major has a song-without-words character, an eloquent melody unfolding above an accompaniment of flowing quavers and a strong bass line. A contrasting section brings momentarily darker emotion, though each phrase finally emerges into sunlight. Instead of returning to the opening melody, Schubert introduces expansive, poignant phrases in long notes with simple accompaniment, before a short passage for solo bass leads directly into the finale. Here the key is A major, the mood amiable, the structure a rondo. The contrasting episodes include a section in D minor requiring awkward string-crossing, later returning in A minor after a passage with pizzicato accompaniment. The final recall of the rondo theme – in a movement richly typical of Schubert's abundant melodic gift – leads to a diminuendo and an emphatic fortissimo cadence.