This is an important disc as it includes the world première recording
of Robert Schumann's Variations on a theme of Schubert painstakingly
reconstructed from manuscripts by the pianist on this recording, Andreas
In his excellent booklet Boyde explains Schumann's admiration for the music
of Scubert. It is known that in 1838 he visited Vienna and discovered the
manuscript of Schubert's Great C major symphony which he sent to Mendlessohn
suggesting, or implying, that Mendlessohn should conduct it. Other experts
on the life and music of Schumann do not wholly support the notion that Schumannn
adored the music of Schubert but rather, in his tragic mental state, was
confused and, in some strange way 'wanted to change places with Schubert'
convincing himself that Schubert was a great composer and that he was worthless.
It is this tragic mental illness that dogged Schumann all his life. Whether
he was a manic-depressive as well as a tortured schizophrenic may be open
to medical debate. Some of the criticism of his music is harsh. Piano works
like Kreisleriana and Faschingsschwank aus Wein are among the
piano classics and, despite the criticism of his orchestration, so also are
works such as the Symphony No 2 (listen to the recording by Ricardo
Muti), the flawless Piano Concerto (acquaint yourself with the recording
by Peter Katin), the exhilarating Konzertstück for 4 horns and,
when played well and the tender Cello Concerto of 1850. His three
quartets and the Piano Quintet in E flat are, in my view, splendid
chamber works and I value his songs and vocal duets (investigate
the Julianne Banse and Brigitte Fassbaender recordings) higher than
those of Schubert.
The Waltz of Longing by Schubert which Schumann uses was, apparently,
a popular tune and Schumann had used it in the opening of Carnaval Op9.
It may not be a tune of great depth but that could also be said of the theme
by Diabelli which Beethoven was to use.
I was brought up on the scholarship that Schumann had an infatuation with
Anges Canus who, in turn, admired Schubert and to impress her he espoused
a love for Schubert. Perhaps modern scholarship will refute this but, as
a psychologist, I believe this to be so since inherent in many of Schumann's
works are musical references to the many women he loved.
The Variations on a theme of Beethoven, completed in 1833, are a far
better set ... perhaps because the theme, the allegretto from the
magnificent Symphony No 7 in A, is vastly superior. There is some very fine
music here although the final minutes may appear to be gloomy to some people.
I do not have the score but the performance seems totally convincing.
The Ghost Variations (Variations on an original theme) are
also rewarding. They were written at the end of Schumann's tragic life when
he was hearing the voices both of angels and demons. Strangely the music
ha a sublime religious feel, an uncanny peace and resignation in this beautifully
crafted work. Clara Schumann did not want this work published. Brahms, a
loyal and honourable friend of Schumann, respected her wishes but composed
his own Variations on a theme of Robert Schumann Op23 for four hands.
Here Andreas Boyd plays the transcription for solo piano by Kircher. Brahms'
work, arguably the best on the disc, is a labour of love and a tribute to
Schumann and to Clara whom he also adored. Brahms said that Schumann's Ghost
Variations was his friendly farewell.
I found the Impromptus Op 5 to be somewhat slight. They may show Robert's
love for his beloved Clara and bear many of his hallmarks.
Boyde is a superb player. We have heard his virtuosic power in the Tchaikovsky
Piano Concerto No 2 (ATH CD 16)
and his performance of Ravel's fiercely-difficult Miroirs
(ATH CD 17) is simply stunning.
Here in this disc there is tremendous insight into this music and the Brahms
performance gives a very rare satisfaction.