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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Davidsbündlertänze Op. 6 (1837) [33:27]
Kreisleriana Op. 16 (1838) [27:57]
Carnaval Op. 9 (1834) [24:17]
Piano Sonata in F sharp minor Op.11 (1835) [26:25]
Fantasie Op.17 (1836) [29:45]
Kinderszenen Op.15 – No.7 Träumerei (1838) [2:46]
Walter Gieseking (piano)
rec. Berlin, 1938-47
ANDROMEDA ANDRCD 9009 [79:04 + 66:08]

These performances are not new to the catalogue. They derive from Gieseking’s German radio broadcasts between 1938 and 1947 and have been reissued before. If you have Archipel 0076 then you have this disc, the contents of which are entirely the same. The Sonata has previously been reissued by Music and Arts; this and other items here have also appeared on Bianco and Nero and doubtless I’ve missed sundry other appearances. Gieseking’s discography is in a bit of a state with multiple recordings, broadcasts (dated and misdated) and locations noted or misattributed. Time for someone to get digging.

The performances, albeit they are sometimes imperfect digitally, represent some of Gieseking’s most incandescent broadcast playing. He seems energised to a remarkable degree throughout the entire span of the performances, roughly a decade’s worth. In particular he revels in the contrasts of Kreisleriana bringing turbulence and dynamism in equal measure. The 1942 Berlin broadcast is perfectly acceptable as well. Listen to the full-on Agitatissimo with which it begins or the vitality of the Con molta espressione that succeeds it. With decisive grandeur in the Second Intermezzo and an eloquent emotive heart in the Lento assai this is a riveting piece of work.

This 1943 Carnaval is very much to be preferred to the more circumspect commercial reading. He tears straight into the Préambule with visionary force and the articulation is sometimes breathless to the point of semi-coherence. But in his defence this brings with it a corollary of intense expression in Eusebius – real intimacy of touch allied to an almost over-sensitive response to the writing; darting, alert, and charged with the grandeur of Schumann’s rhythmic licence. The Sonata receives a similarly inspiring reading. Gieseking’s commitment to Schumann comes with the parallel cost of some digital fluffs and rhythmic fudging but when he mines such depth from the Introduzione of the first movement and when he vests the Aria with so palpable a sense of uneasy delicacy, one will surely forgive him these lapses of enthusiasm. Note too how adroitly he times those probing left hands descents in the Aria.

Davidsbündlertänze reprises all these qualities in its marriage of fiery abandon and delicate withdrawal. Nothing could better exemplify his playing than the rugged purpose of his Balladenmässig though the warmly expressive and rounded singing tone of the Nicht schnell seventh movement comes mighty close. The Fanatsie is a 1947 Frankfurt reading, not Berlin as stated, and in its capricious drama and vital inexactitude it precisely mirrors the tenor of Gieseking’s Schumann playing throughout this set.

Playing of this level of intensity is not guaranteed to unite critical judgement. Throughout the decade covered by these performances, though, Gieseking time and again proves a Schumann interpreter of powerful, sometimes overwrought intensity. With good sonics for the time, these recycled performances cast their spell anew.

Jonathan Woolf


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