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Schumann: Nelly Akopian-Tamarina (piano) Wigmore Hall, 9.12. 2010 (GD)

Arabeske in C, Op. 18

Kreisleriana, Op. 16

Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6


This recital celebrated the bicentenary of Schumann's birth in 1810. Schumann's piano output and his lieder are unique, not in any grand canonical sense - although they are inevitably part of the Austro/German canon - but unique in themselves, in their inner structure, their inner harmonies, and in their tonal modulations. Like the music theorist Theodor Adorno, the cultural critic Slavoj Žižek, who usually writes about politics and psychoanalysis, has devoted several essays to the music of Robert Schumann in which he attempts to define this uniqueness. Basically Žižek focuses on a kind of double discourse in Schumann's music. He notes a dialectic in which a protean range of themes, melodies, harmonies, counterpoints, are subtended by aporetic silences (or 'sphinxes' as the composer called them) and music from another register which Žižek talks of in terms of the 'unheimlich' (uncanny) and 'phantasmic'. And, as Adorno noted, we must be aware of Schumann's own mental condition; that he was literally struggling to retain his own sanity from around the time of 'Kriesleriana'.


All this was resonant in tonight’s recital. From the ascending scale of the opening of the 'Arabesk' we were transported into a world of complex fantasy; a world of Hölderlin and of E T A Hoffmann, a poet/writer who the composer particularly admired and was inspired by. It was as if Moscow-trained pianist Akopian-Tamarina barely touched the keyboard, so delicate and ethreal was the effect of her playing. In all three works tonight Akopian-Tamarina took longer than is standard. She didn't rush but she never dragged; so compellingly did she project her innate musicality. Throughout the recital the notion, the feeling, of tone painting kept coming to mind. Unlike many of the younger, technically adroit pianists we hear today Akopian-Tamarina projected an enormous pianistic range. Her tone sounded almost orchestral at times, and seemed to resonate around the whole hall.   I have only heard such subtle shading, such dynamic range, such deep focus on inner syncopations and modulations in recordings from pianists from the past such as Moiseiwitsch and Cortot. Schumann uses many ingenious pianistic innovations. One such example, found in many sequences tonight, is where Schumann doubles an entire melody in rapid notes an octave lower, generating a magical shimmering effect. This, and many other of his innovations, were compellingly realised and conveyed by Akopian-Tamarina.  



In the 'Kreisleriana' (inspired by E T A Hoffmann) Akopian-Tamarina found and projected a wonderful organic unity with each of the eight very differentiated sections/movements miraculously intertwining with each other. Although 'Kriesleriana' is described as a 'Phantasien fur das Pianoforte' Akopian-Tamarina never lost sight of the quite classical tonal structure around the keys of D minor, B flat major and G minor. After all, Schumann was engaged in a detailed study of Bach's 'Well-Tempered Clavier' while writing ‘Kreisleriana'. It would take a dissertation to register all the wonders of this performance. But special mention must be made of the luminosity and richness of tone and also of the contouring of harmonies in the two concluding sections marked 'Sehr langsam' (Lento assai), and contrasted by a midway section marked 'Sehr lebhaft (Vivace assai) sounding both mercurial and arresting in tone. And in the haunting last movement marked 'Schnell un spielend' (Vivace e scherzando) I have never heard the slight off-beat dotted rhythms, particularly those in 6/8, sound so enchantingly inflected. Here, perhaps was even the slightest hint of Hoffmannesque witchcraft – Žižek’s 'unheimlich' again? 




Schumann's League of David fighting against the Philistines, from which the work. 'Davidbundlertanze' takes its title, certainly had the same ring of topicality in Schumann's time, as it has today! Also Schumann uses his poetic theme of Eusebius and Florestan here. The former represents the more romantic, dreamy aspects of Schumann's musical characterisation, while the latter stands for the more intellectual, logical aspects. All the diversity of moods and musical projection were again superbly captured by Akopian-Tamarina. She opted for the standard arrangement of the eighteen intertwined movements. Other movements, which the composer initially deleted, do exist and are sometimes played separately, as an appendix, as it were. But this standard eighteen-movement version worked very well tonight. Again, in the limited frame of a review, I must confine myself to just a few special delights. In movement VIII 'Frisch' ('lively','fresh') Akopian-Tamarina captured that wonderful ambiguity between the semblance of a Bachian stretto/fugato theme, and the underlying more free figurations in the lower register. The last two movements were highly successful. In XVII there is the bitonality between B major and B minor (almost verging on a chromatic effect) while in the C major last movement Schumann's beloved wife, Clara, is invoked. In these movements Miss Akopian-Tamarina explored every aspect of tonal and harmonic contrast with beautifully inflected rubato, which always cohered with the wider design of this exquisite music.


I was going to end with a plea for her to record some Schumann - I didn't notice any microphones on the concert platform. But on reflection, and very rarely today, piano playing and musicality of this order probably only makes its unique and poetic resonance in a live recital. And I can't imagine ever forgetting tonight’s truly unique 'live' musical event. 


As encores Nelly Akopian-Tamarina gave us beautifully luminous and reflective renditions of the first two Chopin Etudes Op. 25.



Geoff Diggines.


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