Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young) Op.68 (1848) [73:52]
Alessandra Ammara (piano)
rec. Verona 8-10 March 2010
ARTS 47756-8 SACD [73:52]

Schumann’s Album for the Young is a collection of 43 short piano pieces which are designed to be played by children and adults alike. Schumann wrote these over time for the purpose of teaching his children and he published the complete set under the title ‘the Christmas Album’ in 1848. He wrote: “They are quite different from Kinderszenen since these were the retrospective reflections of an adult for adults, whereas the Christmas Album contains many forward-looking ideas, the hopes and expectations of young people’s future.”

This is the best performance of Album for the Young I have ever heard and probably one of the best discs of Schumann piano music I have ever listened to. The sound quality is excellent and Alessandra Ammara’s performance is immaculate, sensitive and perfectly judged throughout. She employs a vast range of tone colour, rhythmic subtlety and well judged rubato to bring out the distinctive poetic characteristics of each of these miniatures.

The opening Melody is dreamy and romantic and Ammara contrasts this immediately with a robust and rhythmically precise Soldier’s March. The poor orphan is simple and elegiac while in the subsequent Hunting Song, Ammara captures beautifully the sound of hunting horns and riders on horseback. She also brings out the poetic and sensitive qualities of the Folk Song and the rhythmic middle section is delightfully played.

The Happy Farmer is beautifully phrased and the tone perfectly judged while Santa Claus seems to strike the right balance between foreboding and expectation. May, Sweet May is absolutely gorgeous with Ammara bringing out all the poetic lyricism of the piece while the Spring Song is full of emotional yearning. The Reaper’s Song is a wonderful vignette full of rustic charm while the piece marked Lento Espressivo is full of Schumannesque warmth and dreaminess.

Ammara perfectly imitates the sound of Horses’ hooves flying along in The Horseman, while the Echoes from the Theatre is full of nervous energy and forward momentum. Remembrance, which was written in memory of Felix Mendelssohn, is quite simply gorgeous, sensitively and tastefully played. Ammara employs more pianistic tricks to imitate the sound of the harp in Sheherazade while at the same time creating a silky narrative. The Gathering of the Grapes - Happy Time is full of whimsy and caprice with Ammara capturing the effervescence and joie d’esprit of the piece. Mignon is a beautiful love song and Ammara’s playing is tender with a beautiful tone and nicely judged rubato. In the final piece of the set - New Year’s Eve - Ammara’s phrasing and tone are beautifully judged throughout and the tempo has just the right degree or urgency. Overall, this recording is highly desirable.

Robert Beattie

The best performance of Album for the Young I have ever heard and probably one of the best discs of Schumann piano music I have ever listened to.