Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Papillons Op. 2 (1832) [14.50]
Piano sonata in F sharp minor Op. 11 (Introduzione. Un poco Adagio - Allegro
vivace [13.11]; Aria [3.06]; Scherzo e Intermezzo. Allegrissimo - Lento [5.09];
Finale. Allegro un poco maestoso [11.49]) (1836)
Kinderszenen Op. 15 (1838) [13.04]
Fantasie in C major Op. 17 (Durchaus phantastisch und liedenschaftlich
vorzutragen [11.48]; Massig, Durchaus energisch [7.47]; Langsam getragen [11.31])
Waldszenen Op. 82 (Eintritt [2.05]; Jager auf der Lauer [1.24]; Einsame
Blumen [1.55]; Verrufene Stelle [3.28]; Freundliche Landschaft [1.10]; Herberge
[2.03]; Vogel als Prophet [3.00]; Jagdlied [2.39]; Abschied [3.35]) (1849)
Geister Variations (1854) [8.91]
Fantasie in C major Op. 17 - Langsam getragen [10.57]
András Schiff (piano)
rec. June 2010, Historischer Reitstadel, Neumarkt
ECM NEW SERIES 2122/23 (476 3909) [60.29 + 69.73]
András Schiff has chosen a selection of pieces which span the whole of
Schumann’s creative output for this recital. They range from the early
Papillons to the Geister variations which was the last
piece of music Schumann wrote before his mental breakdown and incarceration
in an asylum. In the programme notes, he makes clear that Charles Rosen alerted
him to a manuscript of the third movement of the C major Fantasie in the Szechenyi
Library in Budapest which has an alternative ending. In this version - which
was ultimately rejected by Schumann - the composer quotes Beethoven’s
An die ferne Geliebte at the end of the movement. Schiff plays both versions
to allow listeners to compare and contrast.
In Papillons, Schiff conjures a wonderful selection of colours and contrasts
from the piano and his phrasing is immaculate. He brings to life in a vivid
way the imaginative story telling of Jean Paul on whose stories Schumann’s
music is based. The various quicksilver changes of mood are beautifully realised.
It is a superb recording although Schiff cannot quite match Cortot’s quixotic
flights of fancy.
Schiff’s recording of Schumann’s Sonata in F sharp minor is, for
my money, the best performance on this two disc set. The introduction has an
architectural grandeur which serves as a wonderful curtain-raiser for the piece.
Schiff captures brilliantly the nervous energy and exhilaration in the ensuing
Allegro vivace and his phrasing is highly nuanced with a lot of attention
to detail. The subsequent aria is played with a serene simplicity and directness
although Schiff is careful not to allow the wonderfully romantic melody to drift
into mawkishness or sentimentality. The dotted rhythms of the scherzo are played
very tightly and there is a sense of the piece unwinding like a coiled spring,
while the comical and playful elements of the trio are deftly brought out. In
the finale Schiff engages the listener’s attention immediately with a
brisk and businesslike opening while the subsequent episodic material is sewn
together in a seamless way.
Schiff’s rendition of Kinderszenen also has a lot to recommend
it with each of Schumann’s miniatures wonderfully characterised. The central
Traumerei has a formal elegance that brings out, in a lovely way, the
contours of the piece. Schiff gives a highly poetic and sensitive account of
Kind im Einschlummern while Ritter von Streckenpferd
has a childlike abandon which is highly appealing. While this is a first rate
account, Schiff does not quite efface the poetic insights of Lupu.
The performance in these discs which I had most of a problem with was Schiff’s
account of Schumann’s great C major Fantasie. The opening movement
was taken at a brisk pace. The opening melody is full of romantic yearning and
ardour but Schiff’s fastidious attention to detail seemed to impede the
subsequent natural flow of the work and the mercurial changes in mood. The march
in the second movement was again taken at a brisk pace with the dotted and cross-rhythms
handled well. That said, Schiff did not fully capture the robustness and vigour
of the music; this version of the march was a little too precious for my taste.
The slow movement was exceptionally beautiful and it was indeed a very stimulating
experience to hear the two alternative versions. The build-up and climax to
the movement was played with a fluidity and passionate intensity that was highly
There was much to admire in Waldszenen with Schiff giving a highly polished
account of each of these delightful miniatures. The opening Eintritt
did not quite have the magical echoes that one hears in Richter’s account,
while Jager an der Lauer seemed a little laboured
and overly detailed. However, Schiff captured perfectly the surreal and fantastical
quality in Vogel als Prophet and Abschied was played
with ravishing warmth and beauty of tone.
Schiff ends his recital with the heart breaking Geister variations
which also serves as the title of these discs. I heard Schiff play this work
in the Wigmore Hall recently and am delighted that he has chosen to champion
it. The feelings of sadness and dissociation are conveyed with deep sensitivity
while Schiff uses highly skilful pedalling to reveal the sense of hallucinatory
unease and anguish particularly in the final variation. Schiff’s performance
was profoundly moving and the discs are worth getting for this work alone.
Immaculate phrasing and a wonderful selection of colours and contrasts.