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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Davidbündlertänze, Op. 6 (1837, first edition) [29’20]
Concert sans orchestre, Op. 14 (1936) [21’44]
Maurizio Pollini (piano)
Rec Herkulessaal, Munich, in June 2000. DDD
DG 471 369-2 [52’02]


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Maurizio Pollini elected to live with the Davidbündlertänze for many, many years before recording them; a wise choice that has reaped many dividends in the present release. The constantly shifting nature of Schumann’s music seems to appeal to Pollini, and it is no surprise therefore to learn that the eighteen contrasting pieces that make up this collection are given a peerless, magisterial performance. The very confidence Pollini exudes is breathtaking and he is always entirely at the service of this wonderful piece.

The Davidbündlertänze performance goes a long way towards refuting the oft-heard suggestion that Pollini is an over-literal interpreter. Listen to the half-voiced second movement (‘Innig’) or the sweetly sung fourteenth (‘Zart und singend’) for full refutation of that assertion. Whether it be in a disembodied waltz or in Schumann’s characteristic dotted rhythms, one is constantly reminded that Pollini is the most secure of guides to Schumann’s music. Only (and this will, admittedly, come as no surprise to this pianist’s detractors) in the twelfth movement (marked ‘Mit gutem Humor’) does Pollini fall short. His over-serious reputation here seems to bear aural fruit.

Pollini opts for the first edition, published by Robert Friese in Leipzig in 1837. There are many, but minor, changes to the usual edition used (1851, Schuberth). More serious are the textual issues with the Concert sans orchestre, which comprises three of the five movements composed for the Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor. Two scherzos are omitted, in fact one restored by the composer in an 1853 revision; the other posthumously published by Brahms in 1853. Pollini himself is quoted in the booklet notes, referring to the success of the concentrated listening experience of the Concert sans orchestre.

Again, Pollini provides a truly convincing performance. Live, it is even more so (at least, at the Festival Hall when I heard him, it was), but that is not to imply that this DG recording will be in any way unsatisfactory. The grand scale of his conception is heard from the very start, together with a focused attention to detail and a crystalline clarity. It is difficult to state which is the most successful movement, as the second (Quasi Variazioni. Andantino de Clara Wieck), a set of variations on a funereal theme of Clara’s, is imbued with a tender mystery, its quixotic changes of mood fully in keeping with Schumann’s character, while the finale (Prestissimo possibile) is, indeed, extremely fast, but with the ‘possibile’ judged in relation to the possibilities of the musical content. Even in the shortest staccato, Pollini never ‘jabs’ at notes; his control is always enormously compelling (listen to his left hand about 4’40).

Although the playing time may appear short, this is a disc to return to again and again for sovereign musical illumination.

Colin Clarke



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