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Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Burkhard Schliessmann, piano
Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938)
Symphonic Metamorphoses on Waltzes and Themes of Johann Strauss
Die Fledermaus [14:05]
Alt-Wien [2:54]
Wienerisch [3:10]
Ein Künstlerleben [16:34]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Piano Transcriptions of Schubert Songs
Die Forelle [3:57]
Auf dem Wasser zu Singen [4:50]
Ständchen nach Shakespeare [3:15]
Leise flehen meine Lieder [6:31]
Aufenthalt [3:55]
Erlkönig [4:57]
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Ballade in g minor, op. 23 [10:08]
Ballade in F major, op. 38 [7:44]
Ballade in A flat major, op. 47 [7:23]
Ballade in F minor, op. 52 [11:14]
Fantasie in f minor, op. 49 [13:09]
Barcarolle in F-sharp major, op. 60 [8:18]
Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat major, op. 61 [12:52]
Reflections on Chopin (Waltz in c-sharp minor, op. 64 no 2. [3:45]
Burkhard Schliessmann, piano
rec. Mendelssohn Saal, Stadthalle am Johannisberg Wuppertal. No recording date given.
ARTHAUS DVD 100455 [73:00]
BONUS DVD AUDIO (CHOPIN) [70:00]

From the laudatory comments plastered all over the box and the über-flattering essay about the pianist that takes up a full two pages of the program book, one would think that Burkhard Schliessmann was the greatest pianist since Liszt. And, I will have to confess that in certain repertoire he is fine indeed, but this presentation is long on plaudits and short on product. The only half-interesting hour-plus recital has nothing of great visual excitement and some hit and miss playing ranging from the very fine to the utterly pedantic.

In an email exchange with my colleague Donald Satz, I was strongly encouraged to listen to Schliessmann’s Schumann recordings, which Mr. Satz found extraordinary. It was his advice that encouraged me to give this set a second and third listen, and I did find some rather fine playing on a portion of this disc. Alas it is not to be found in the Godowsky/Strauss works, which were played under tempo, lethargically, and so haltingly as to make me believe that Schliessmann was being entirely too careful not to miss a note - read: these pieces need more rehearsal. Since the bulk of Strauss’s output was in the form of a waltz - even Fledermaus is a big set of waltzes with funny words - I spent the entirety of this set trying to dance, and being unable to do so. The playing lacks the lilt of the dance, the joie and spirit of old Vienna, and well, it is just rather boring and pedantic. Couple that with some completely uninteresting camera work (really, how much can you do with a guy and a piano alone in a fancy room?), and Mr. Schliessmann’s rather expressionless posture at the piano and you get an end-result that requires quite an effort to keep from nodding off.

The Liszt Schubert transcriptions are another affair. Mr. Schliessmann here seems to be well acquainted with the songs themselves, and portrays the poetry, or at least a good representation of it, in his playing. He is fleet of finger and his handling of inner voices is exquisite. Tempo choices are right on, corresponding again with the spirit of the poetry. Particular favorites were the lovely rendition of Auf dem Wasser zu Singen and the spirited, yea riveting performance of Erlkönig.

A nice bonus is the DVD audio disc of Chopin works, with an encore video presentation at the end. Borrowed from the Bayer label. The playing of the four Ballades is certainly elegant, particularly in the slower passages, but I was a bit bothered by what seems to be a lack of inner rhythm and attention to the inner subdivisions of beats. Once things get moving at a faster pace, then Schliessmann is all control and panache. I was most impressed by the rich warm tone he gets out of the piano, and how he manages not to blur the more virtuosic passages with an abundance of pedal. It is sad though that when the music is at its most poetic, Schliessmann is at his most pedantic.

Production values are fair, with an abundance of praise for the artist, so much so that one begins to have doubts about his abilities; methinks thou dost protest too much, perhaps. Notes on the music are informative and concise, and the essay on Godowsky is particularly worthwhile.

Since this is primarily a video production, I recommend rental over purchase. The music is somewhat interesting, and at least worth a single listen/viewing, but the investment of buyer’s cash might be too much to risk.

Kevin Sutton



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