First intended for his eldest daughter, Marie, Schumann’s
charming pedagogic pieces, none much longer than three and a half minutes,
have fared only indifferently on disc.
Faced with the simplicities of the writing pianists
have tended to abandon musical discretion and, over-emotionalised and
rubato-laden, performances have foundered on the rocks of adult sophistication.
On Calliope CAL 9208 Daniel Blumenthal brings simplicity and directness,
preferable to Angela Brownridge on Helios CDH88039, fine player though
she is. Naxos now gives us Rico Gulda’s performance. There is a fine
halo of sound around Gulda – the recording was made in Vienna’s Bosendorfer
Hall – and there is no doubting his pianistic pedigree but throughout,
deeply felt and considered though his playing often is, one feels the
several over-emphases and hesitations, which can otherwise mar performances
of this set.
From the Melodie that opens the first set and which
finds him somewhat arch, through the somewhat facelessly played three-starred
piece that is the third of the second book, one feels a lack of consistency
in Gulda’s playing. He brings a real untrammelled brio to the Reiterstruck,
No 23, but comparison with Blumenthal shows a slightly steadier tempo,
less thunderous accents and a more convincing musical span. One can
quibble with some of Blumenthal’s tempi but not with his understanding;
by his side Gulda sounds precocious and raw.
Which is not to decry Gulda’s playing which is often
thoroughly convincing; ultimately though it lacks Schumannesque acuity
and never really reaches the state of true simplicity.