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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Novelletten Op. 21
Blumenstück Op. 19
Kinderszenen Op. 15: 7. Träumerei
Craig Sheppard (piano)
Recorded live at the Meany Theatre, University of Washington, Seattle, 23.10.2001 (Op. 21), 02.03.2000 (others)
AT 02-01114 [60:26]


Contact Annette Tangermann at
Friedenstrasse 16,
D-14109 Berlin

Returning empty handed from my shelves I looked up the Novelletten in the latest RED Classical Catalogue I have. There are currently very few recordings of the set available; Engel, Brautigam, Demidenko and Rössler are the quartet listed though Rubinstein held sway with the set and Richter used to play selections (he once programmed three in a recital but he never recorded them all, more’s the pity). One who recorded No. 2 was Clara Schumann pupil Adelina de Lara, whose very late 1952 recordings are on Pearl (No. 8 is advertised as well but I’ve yet to locate it). She was over eighty at the time so points of comparison with Craig Sheppard are not entirely fair but comparison is certainly revealing. She hadn’t the fingers really and the relatively primitive set-up tends to coarsen the recording quality. By contrast Sheppard receives a notably attractive and warm acoustic. De Lara begins with precipitous energy, driving and visceral, making a paragraphal caesura for the lyrical subject that Sheppard manages to integrate into the melodic curve with a degree of seamlessness.

Sheppard’s is in fact a most compelling traversal of a greatly under-appreciated set, once habitually dismissed for mere note-spinning and flummery. In truth along with the undoubted virtuosity comes lyrical invention of the highest order. It also has many a rhythmic fancy – take the saucily launched Polonaise of No. 5 which here receives just the right sense of rhythmic brio and control (equal constituents). He can withdraw his tone to the optimum expressive advantage of the piece and his clarity and agility are memorably fluent. He draws out melodic strands embedded in these eight individual movements but never with self-conscious pointing. Things emerge with lyrical generosity but also with a sense of inevitable rightness – of weight and of direction (the conclusion of No. 5 is indeed measured to perfection with all its hesitational subtleties intact to the last). The example of the Sheppard/de Lara divergence illustrates one aspect of his structural priorities. How well, to cite another instance, Sheppard conveys the melodic line’s fluctuation between left and right hand in No. 6. How insightful and complex is his reaction to No. 8, the romanticism tinged and heightened with shafts of recollections of Clara’s Stimme aus der Ferne – where Sheppard reveals the apex of his sensibility and poetic instincts.

His own notes are succinct and as I said the sound quality is immediately and lastingly attractive. It’s apparent that the action on Sheppard’s piano is a touch noisy but that’s a minor point judged against such a wealth of affectionate intelligence and tonal allure. The set takes its place as a most warmly recommendable release and comes complete with two encores – an excellent Blumenstück and a delicate, slow and most refined Träumerei, both of which add to the very real merits of this disc.

Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by Chris Howell and Roy Brewer

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