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Yves Nat (piano)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Piano Concerto in A minor Op.54
Kinderszenen Op.15
Papillon Op.2
Toccata in C major Op.7
Arabesque in C major Op.18
Yves Nat (piano)
Lamoureux Orchestra/Eugene Bigot
Recorded Paris, March 1933 (Concerto) and September 1954 (remainder)
ARCHIPEL ARPCD 0215 [66.33]

 

I have to admit to a certain fondness for a pianophile website run by a man whose opinions are as trenchant as his prose is brusque. He combines the assiduous triviality of Mr Pooter with the historical sweep of 1066 And All That. My two favourite entries are Spartan indeed; Solomon is usually boring Ė except his Tchaikovsky, which isnít and his Yves Nat entry, which asks plaintively Yves Nat - why do some people like his Schumann?

I wouldnít presume to answer that question with any Olympian authority but at least the current discography gives us the opportunity to get acquainted with Nat pre and post War because, as with his compatriot Cortot, he re-recorded his repertoire under more favourable conditions. Thus Andante have included his earlier Kinderszenen in their Schumann box, along with the Fantasiestücke, and Dante (no longer in print) issued an all Schumann 1930s disc about a decade ago. EMI has issued a 4 CD set devoted to him. Archipel splits the difference; we have the boxy 1933 Concerto recording and the post-War quartet of works that make up the remainder of the programme. Letís rephrase the question; what do I like about Natís Schumann. First, the Concerto. Itís not a favourite recording of mine. The recording, as I suggested, is cramped and even for 1933 dimly recorded. French recording studios at the time had a tendency to be somewhat unresonant but even so the performance strikes me as somewhat brash. Itís always a point of considerable importance to hear French wind and reed playing of this period Ė and thatís no less the case here Ė but Nat rather tosses off passagework and values the virtuoso above the poetic, and itís no surprise that the 1937 Myra Hess recording rather eclipsed this one in esteem.

The smaller pieces strike a consistently finer note. The Toccata is especially rewarding. Heís not flattered by the 1954 recording which is curiously flat and Iím sure doesnít fully reflect his range of dynamics but Natís musicianship emerges unscathed. This is not Schumann playing in the Horowitz or Arrau mould. Thereís nothing brazen or hyper-virtuosic about the performance, and so for example there are none of the formerís vertiginous bass relief etchings (nor, to be scrupulous, does Nat explore the inner voicings as Horowitz did Ė either in 1934 or 1962). Natís tempo is relatively slow but the musical control of architecture is strong, the line very well sustained. His Papillions is highly poetic Ė vibrant and rhythmically acute and the Arabesque makes another point of comparison with highly personalised Schumann playing. Horowitz (1962) is saturated in daring intimacies and metric displacement, stretching the narrative line to breaking point (and for the ascetic minded, beyond) whereas Nat is fluent, clear eyed, exploring those moments of emotive reprieve with sagacious control.

His Kinderszenen didnít change greatly over the years from the recorded evidence. His 1954 recording makes an intriguing comparison with Cortotís 1947 traversal. Nat is a great deal smoother and more obviously romanticised, gentler, taking the childís view of childhood, or, rather, an adultís idealised view of childhood; Cortot recollects seemingly through tougher adult experience. Itís noticeable that Nat is consistently faster except for those scenes that, like Träumerei, call for gentle reflection. Natís touch is delicate and elfin, he lacks Cortotís disruptive bass accents and colouristic intensity, the interplay of the hands (Von fremden Ländern und Menschen), the capricious rubati and voicings (Kuriose Geschichte). Emotively Cortot pleads more in Bittendes Kind whereas Nat is rather better behaved. Neither man was known for avoiding technical pileups, especially in the 1940s and 50s when they were beset with physical problems (Nat in fact died in 1956; he was born in 1890). Thereís some evidence of this in Wichtige Begebenheit where he splashes about for a bar or so but throughout his supple playing and simplicity of utterance bring rewards, even if he is not as revelatory as Cortot who is positively proto-Brahmsian in Fast zu Ernst. Throughout Nat is more even, more obviously romantic, maybe more whimsical (judged against Cortotís dramatic incision). Listened to independently of Cortot Natís is a pliant, fluent and warmly sympathetic reading, though I must say that Cortot galvanizes me more.

The original 1954 discs werenít brilliantly engineered, lacking definition and dynamic breadth; Archipel seem to have subjected them to noise reduction, which has had a neutral impact at best. Why do some people like Yves Natís Schumann? Some of the answers are here, if you choose to seek them out.

Jonathan Woolf



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