Novelletten – Schiff/ECM, Zacharias/EMI
"Geister Variations"- Nikolayeva/Melodiya
recommend recorded performances with
the caution that they not be considered
one’s only version to own. This sums
up my feeling about Volume 11 of Franz
Vorraber’s traversal of the complete
Schumann piano works in his 13-disc
series on Thorofon. From this volume
and the others I have heard, Vorraber
has definitive concepts about Schumann’s
music, and they change according to
the specific work he performs.
Let’s turn to the music
itself. Schumann’s Novelletten, although
written in the same year as his hugely
popular Kinderszenen and Kreisleriana,
does not possess an equal amount of
inspiration. Specifically, only the
first two of the eight movements match
the artistry that we expect from the
Schumann piano repertoire. As a result,
these two movements are often recorded
and performed at concert recitals, while
the remaining six movements remain untouched.
to the Novelletten is aggressive, heavy,
abrupt and sharp. Christian Zacharias,
also abrupt and sharp, conveys much
more excitement and less aggressiveness
than Vorraber. Turning to the András
Schiff version, the poetry is at a higher
level than Vorraber musters. It is the
aggressive disposition that most informs
Vorraber’s performance, and I feel a
little beat up after listening to it.
However, Vorraber brings some admirable
and idiomatic qualities to his performance.
The detail he offers is quite impressive,
and the abrupt/sharp phrasing is well
in line with Schumann’s sound world.
What I miss most is the lack of conveying
any irrational elements that surely
are an integral part of Schumann’s musical
psychology. Vorraber unfortunately always
sounds focused and in control, apparently
unwilling to take the wild or disoriented
paths at any point in the eight movements.
Schumann wrote his
"Geister Variations" just
a few weeks before attempting to commit
suicide by throwing himself into the
Rhine and then being placed in a sanitarium
in Endenich. Consisting of a theme with
five variations, this work is infrequently
recorded for a couple of reasons. First,
the theme is one that Schumann had previously
used in his String Quartet in F major,
Violin Concerto, and the song "Frühlings
Ankunft". Second, the variations
do not stray far from the basic theme.
Listening to Vorraber
play the "Geister Variations",
you wouldn’t know he is the same pianist
who pounds his way through the Novelletten.
His tempos, except for the fifth variation,
are extremely slow; although Tatiana
Nikolayeva’s rather patient reading
takes over 12 minutes, Vorraber extends
the work to almost 15 minutes. The result
of Vorraber’s leisurely excursion is
a very solemn presentation somewhat
similar to a funeral dirge. I do find
the interpretation effective, and it
certainly conveys a reasonable assessment
of Schumann’s state of mind at the time
of composition and his imminent demise.
The soundstage tends
to be bass-heavy and rather claustrophobic.
Further, the tuning in the middle registers
of the Bösendorfer Piano is far
from perfect. Yet, these conditions
do not deter from enjoying the fine
detail of Vorraber’s playing, and his
respective approaches to each of the
programmed works come through clearly.
Essentially, Vorraber overcomes his
Although there are
hundreds of Schumann piano discs in
the catalogs, the only other compete
series is from Jörg Demus on Nuova
Era. The Demus performances are excellent,
but the sound quality is far from stellar.
I think it is fair to say that most
readers would prefer Demus who is the
more mainstream interpreter. However,
Vorraber has much to impart to Schumann
enthusiasts with his distinctive interpretations.
For those who want a taste of his way
with Schumann, I recommend beginning
with one of the volumes having Schumann’s
more popular works such as Volume 7
which contains Kinderszenen and the