The unusual coupling here brings together next year’s anniversary-boy
Schumann (b.1810) with this year’s, Haydn (d.1809), on a well-filled
CD, one of a series of Denon recordings which Dal Segno have licensed
for reissue: Schiff appears again in a recording of Bach Keyboard
Concertos with the ECO conducted by George Malcolm (DSPRCD042).
Denon originally (1986) offered the three Schumann
works on their own, so the reissue is a real bargain, a fact
which Dal Segno surprisingly fail to proclaim on the cover,
which lists only the Schumann. Was the addition of the Haydn
a late decision which caught out the design department?
I’m very well acquainted with and approve of Schiff’s
way with Mozart and Schubert, but his Schumann and Haydn had
passed me by, so I was especially pleased to have received
this CD for review. I was not disappointed.
András Schiff is something of a pluralist in the
works of Schumann included here: he has a version of Arabeske
on a 2-CD set, Warner Maestro 2564
691731, with Kreisleriana and the Symphonic Studies;
also on a budget-price CD in a multi-composer programme, Warner
2564 615882. The single-CD Warner Elatus disc of his Schumann
seems to have been deleted. He couples Humoreske with
the Piano Sonata, in a live 1999 recording, on a 2-CD ECM
1192. All these recordings, including the original Denon release
of the Schumann, were welcomed on their first appearance.
Schiff’s tempi on this Dal Segno reissue are generally
a little on the slow side. His account of Papillons at
16:01, for example, is significantly
slower than Sviatoslav Richter’s 14:38 on his budget-price EMI Classics Encore recording.
Richter is first-rate in this repertoire and his CD made an excellent
bargain, with the Fantasie and Faschingsschwank
as couplings – so why does it appear to have been deleted in the
UK? – but Schiff’s account
stands up well in its own right. The opening might benefit from
a little more energy; otherwise only the comparative timings make
it seem slower than it actually sounds. The Richter is still available
as a download from passionato (5752322 with the HMV logo or 5752332
with the Angel logo) though, at £7.99 (mp3) or £9.99 (flac) it’s
now dearer than the CD. The German version of the CD appears still
to be available for around €6 from emiclassics.de.
Schiff’s tempo for Arabeske is a little
swifter on his Warner recording – 5:49 against 6:40 – but, once again, the stopwatch tells only part
of the story: I didn’t feel that the older performance was
too slow. In fact, compared with Bernd Glemser’s 7:14 on Naxos (8.550715, with Piano Sonata No.2 and Nachtstücke),
it’s quite fast. For many listeners Kempff’s 4-CD DG set is
the benchmark for Schumann’s piano music; his 4-CD set is
a real bargain at around £20 (471 312 2). Kempff takes 6:25, which is very little
faster than Schiff here – in fact, I thought Schiff just a
little more light and airy than Kempff.
I have seen Schiff’s newer ECM version of Humoreske
described as riper and more complex than his ‘relatively strait-laced’
Denon performance; I haven’t had a chance to hear the ECM recording,
but I certainly don’t recognise the epithet strait-laced as a
description of the reissued version. His time of 29:13 is not
unduly slow: Kempff on the 4-CD DG set listed above, Dalberto
on Warner Elatus and Sviatoslav Richter on his 1956 Moscow recording
are only a little faster, though he is rather slower than, for
example, Richard Goode on Nonesuch, who takes just 26:19 or Radu
Lupu (25:57, Decca 440 496 2). Goode’s 1981 recording is deleted
in the UK on CD but available as
an mp3 download for a mere £2.49 from Amazon.co.uk. or from the
Nonesuch website in the US. The Richter is also available as a download in
rather fragile sound from Amazon.co.uk.
I can’t describe Goode’s performance as sounding
in any way hurried; though he is often nimble-fingered in
the faster sections, he plays reflectively where appropriate
– after all, Schumann did describe the work as ‘not very cheerful,
perhaps my most melancholy’. Schiff is not much less nimble
than Goode in the faster passages but inclined to be a little
dreamier in the more reflective moments. There is room for
both interpretations of this music – your choice will depend
on which aspect of Schumann’s multi-faceted music you prefer
to emphasise. For my money Schiff on Dal Segno achieves a
fine balance between, for example, section IV, where liveliness
and strength are the order of the day (Nach und nach immer
lebhafter und stärker), and the simple tenderness of section
V, marked Einfach und zart. Incidentally, I wish that
these sections had been more clearly listed in the booklet;
there is no track listing and some but not all of the markings
are embedded in the notes. Better still, many recordings track
the sections separately.
Schiff has also recorded some of Haydn’s Piano
Sonatas for Warner, on two mid-price Elatus recordings, one
of which (Nos.59-62) was reviewed so enthusiastically by Paul
Shoemaker that it prompted him to seek out the other. Unfortunately,
that second CD seems no longer to be available, but the one
which PS reviewed is still around (2564 60807-2 – see review).
Schiff’s 1986 Denon CD included the more mature Sonatas Nos.43
and 46 alongside No.36; let us hope that Dal Segno have plans
to license and reissue these, too.
If, in the centenary year, you still regard Haydn
as playing second or third fiddle to Beethoven and Mozart,
try listening to some of his symphonies, string quartets or
piano trios, several of which have featured in my MusicWeb
International Download Roundups in 2009. The keyboard sonatas
are the most neglected of all his music; what better opportunity
to rectify that this year – or any year – than by starting
with Schiff’s performance here, which is every bit as good
as his Schumann.
His playing here has that fortepiano-like lightness
of touch which I associate with his Mozart. If he can make
one of the earlier sonatas sound this well, I must investigate
his Elatus recording of the later works which PS recommended.
Just one caveat – I have seen this sonata described as an
example of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang style, but there
isn’t much evidence of storm or stress in Schiff’s performance.
The recording throughout is truthful. The notes
are helpful – and couched in more idiomatic English than I
understand the original Denon to have been – but somewhat
terse. Though frequent reference are made, for example, to
the often abrupt mood-swings in Schumann’s writing, the terms
which Schuman himself employed to explain these, his ‘Florestan’
and ‘Eusebius’ sides are nowhere mentioned. A clearer indication
of who the novelist Jean Paul was and the extent to which
he influenced Schumann might have been welcome.
I’ve already complained that there is no track-listing
for the sections of Humoreske. The playing time of 71:39
stated on the rear insert is a trifle optimistic: both the
Dal Segno website and my player give the true time as 71:10.
There is no shortage of good recordings of Schumann’s
piano music, many of them at mid-price or less, not least
the 4-CD Kempff set, but there is always room for one more
of the quality of this Schiff reissue, especially when coupled
with an opportunity to get to know one of Haydn’s keyboard
works. When you place your order, don’t forget to add the
budget-price Alto reissue of Alfred Brendel in Schumann’s
c-minor Fantasie and Symphonic Studies, which
I recently recommended: ALC1046 – see review.