> Schumann - Piano Music [WH]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasiestücke, op. 12 (1837)
Papillons, op. 2 (1831)
Carnaval, op. 9 (1835)
George-Emmanuel Lazaridis, piano
Recorded October 2000, St. Philips Church, Streatham, London, UK.


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Let me say right away that that reviewing the first batch of three discs in the Somm New Horizons series has been a real pleasure. Like EMI Classics with their Début series and Harmonia Mundi with Les Nouveaux Interprètes, Somm are providing a forum for new talent, young musicians whose stature is already proven but who are still close to the beginning of their careers. Itís a more than worthwhile exercise, as these three discs prove, as do many of the EMI and Harmonia Mundi issues also. These are marvellous musicians who, as is the way nowadays, have nothing to fear from their elders from the technical point of view, and in most cases possess an extraordinary maturity and musical insight to go with it.

The Greek pianist George-Emmanuel Lazaridis is in his early twenties and has studied extensively in London, notably at the Royal College of Music, as well as with some of the most eminent pianists such as Alfred Brendel. He is also a composer with many performances and several commissions to his credit. The disc under review seems to be his first commercial recording.

I imagine that the chief problem in launching a series such as this is persuading the public to buy the discs when so much material is available played by the giants of the past. How can a young musician hope to compete? One approach is by judicious choice of repertoire. For her superb disc on Les Nouveaux Interprètes the cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand chose a programme of unaccompanied twentieth century cello music, including works written specially for her, and thus there is no reason to compare her playing to anyone elseís. George-Emmanuel Lazaridis has chosen another path here: his recital of early Schumann works is core repertoire, bringing him into direct comparison with some of the greatest pianists of modern times. Whether there is any point in comparing his Schumann to that of Rubinstein or Arrau, Brendel, Barenboim or Ashkenazy, is another matter. I think people will do so, all the same, which will be a pity, because the fact is that taken in its own terms this is most satisfying playing, and I donít see how anyone buying this disc could be disappointed.

Joseph Weingarten, writing about the interpretation of Schumannís piano music, says that "early compositions such asÖPapillons, CarnavalÖare all a series of miniatures strung together like beads on a necklace to form a single chain". The difficulty of interpreting such works lies in the fact that each single piece, short though it is, is at once complete in itself and part of the larger structure into which it must be convincingly integrated. This is certainly the case in Papillons, where some of the pieces are very short indeed, but even more so in Carnaval, a kaleidoscope of mood, feeling, even scene or portrait painting, and often with literary references thrown in. The work is inspired by a love affair: Schumann, only twenty-four himself, had fallen in love with a girl several years his junior. She came from the town of Asch, and much of the musical material of Carnaval is based on the four notes Ė in their German form Ė whose letters make up the townís name. An incurable romantic, one might say. The eight pieces which make up the Fantasiestücke tend to be slightly longer and more self-contained, and betraying in their character the personal and musical maturity of the slightly older composer. Yet these pieces too are strongly associated with, and dedicated to, a lady, though yet another, Clara, later to become his wife, also figures in the complex picture.

Lazaridisís view of Schumannís music tends more toward the impulsive than the reflective. Listening to older pianists, Rubinstein in Carnaval, for instance, or Kempff in Papillons, underlines this, and some might find this element missing from time to time. They might also sense a certain absence of grandeur. This is not to suggest that the gentler episodes are neglected. On the contrary, they are beautifully executed, especially perhaps in the Fantasiestücke. But this is all young manís music, after all, and I find Lazaridisís impulsive but not impatient approach both convincing and true to the music. And he rises magnificently to every technical challenge.

The piano is satisfyingly present in a warm but not too reverberant church acoustic. There are good introductory notes by Christopher Morley, and indeed the whole product is well presented. Somm do their young artists proud.

I hadnít heard of George-Emmanuel Lazaridis before, but heís certainly someone to watch out for. Anyone wanting this particular combination of works shouldnít hesitate.

William Hedley

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