Schubert's F minor Fantasy is the greatest work for piano 4-hands. To my ears, indeed, it comes close to the summit of all music. The piece is beyond imagining. You cannot believe that there is music this beautiful until you actually hear it. Some say that listening to Mozart will make you smarter. Maybe so -- and that's great -- but listening to Schubert (and in particular the F minor Fantasy) will make you happier.
The F minor Fantasy has always drawn great artists to it and has been much and well recorded, by such duo pianists as Eschenbach-Frantz, Tal-Groethuysen, Richter-Britten, Aebersold-Neiweem, Gilels (Emil)-Gilels (Elena), Levin-Bilson, Schnabel (Helen)-Schnabel (Karl), the Paratore brothers, the Pekinel sisters, and Brendel-Crochet, to name only a few. I own more than 30 recordings of the piece. Astonishingly, all are rewarding; many are sublime.
Even within this lofty group, the Lupu and Perahia recording stands out. Their playing combines clarity and rhythmic propulsion with a kind of dreamy relaxation. This may sound impossible, but Lupu and Perahia accomplish it with supple inflection and finely shaded dynamics in the musical lines, while maintaining rigorous metrical exactitude. Lupu and Perahia's quality of phrasing -- rare even in solo pianists concerned only with their own hands -- is unique among duo pianists. The closing section (a combination of recapitulation and coda wrapped around a driving fugato) is perhaps the greatest 5 minutes of recorded music that I have heard. The tempi here are slower than in many other recordings. This is ideal, because the overwhelming feeling you get from this music is to want it to last forever. The perfect tempo is the slowest one that maintains strong forward movement. Lupu and Perahia achieve this effect, among many artful touches, with the elasticity of their phrasing. Also, the sound is impeccable. I doubt the F minor Fantasy can be played better or recorded with greater fidelity.
For several years I extolled in this review the 99 cent price of this mp3 file. Recently, however, Amazon.com has increased the price of the F minor Fantasy to $2.97. Even so, the piece is a great buy. But now there is a stronger reason than before to buy the entire album, which offers along with the F minor Fantasy several works of Mozart -- all superbly played -- including an exemplary recording of the D major sonata for two pianos K 448.