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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Davidsbündlertänze Op.6
Sonata No.2 in G minor Op.22
Toccata in C Op.7

Boris Berezovsky, piano
Recorded at Teldec Studio, Berlin in May 1992
TELDEC APEX 0927 40834 2 [62.08] Bargain Price


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What prevented Schumann from pursuing his chosen career of a pianist was an injury to his hand, self-inflicted apparently in an attempt to strengthen a finger with a device he himself invented in 1832. Prior to 1840 his music followed a particular line of poetic inspiration, with much emphasis on lyrical line to his phrasing and melodic shape. He had, after all, been brought up literally surrounded by books as the son of a bookseller, so he was steeped in literature and poetry far beyond his years. He chose programmatic themes such as Papillons Op.2 and then Davidsbündlertänze Op.6 (1837), the first piece of music on this disc. This was also the time of his highly dramatic romance with his future wife, Clara Wieck. ‘As to what is in the dances’ (Davidsbündlertänze literally means ‘The League of David’s Dances’), ‘my Clara’, Robert wrote, ‘you will find that out, for, more than to anything else, they are dedicated to you. It is a story of an eve-of-the-wedding party and you can imagine what the beginning and the end looks like. If I was ever happy at the piano, then it was as I was composing these dances’. The Dances are dedicated to Goethe’s grandson Walther, and each carries the signature of one of two names, either Florestan or Eusebius (F or E), whose origins themselves lie in the identities of twins Vult and Walt in Jean Paul’s Flegeljahre (‘The Awkward Years’). ‘Two completely new people make their first appearance in my diary, two of my best friends though I have never seen them, Florestan and Eusebius’, wrote Schumann in his diary (June 1831). Bearing in mind the composer’s gradually encroaching and destabilising mental illness, it comes as no surprise to find these characters in his diary, and as the embodiment of two distinct personalities, the gentle Eusebius and the acerbic Florestan. The names also came to be used as pseudonyms for his writings in his own music periodical, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik while the title Davidsbündlertänze was depicted as a group countering Philistinism. The Dances consist of eighteen short movements or characteristic pieces, all of which carry indications of mood, such as ‘with humour’, ‘impatiently’, ‘as from afar’, or ‘tender and singing’, rather than tempo or the more usual conventional formulaic Italian terms.

Florestan and Eusebius make another appearance in the second of his two piano sonatas, which largely follow the classic Beethoven outline and model. He took a few years to complete the work (1833 to 1838) and then, at Clara’s suggestion, substituted a new finale Rondo (for the original ‘presto passionato’) in which the two characters are to be found, tempestuous passion in contrast with lyrical pensiveness. Schumann himself credited Beethoven, John Field, and Czerny with providing the essential expressive elements of piano writing which influenced him, richness of part-writing, use of pedal, and volubility. His fingerprint after the disastrous experiment of 1832 described above subscribes to these three principles in the textures, arpeggio shapes, handfuls of notes only playable with the use of the sustaining pedal, and so on. In the sonata his sense of the dramatic goes into overdrive (‘faster’, then ‘even faster’ he exhorts his interpreter). Like his contemporary Mendelssohn, Schumann looked back admiringly to Bach as a model, and his Toccata (1829-1832) certainly has the stylish virtuosic brilliance, but also tempered with melodic poetry.

Boris Berezovsky is a natural Schumann player, knowing just how to pace the ebb and flow of phrasing and mood. His technique has both translucence of tone and thoughtful control, and he burnishes the music’s temperament with added lustre and golden sounds in the tradition of Horowitz or Rubinstein. He achieves some marvellous effects ‘as if from afar’ in the penultimate Davidsbündlertanz, in particular sustaining its tension-packed ending, followed by a glorious performance of the sonata.

This is the ninth and last of a batch of Teldec Apex CDs sent to me to review, all of which have been of a commendable quality but sadly, and inexplicably, bereft of any biographical details of the performers.

Christopher Fifield


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