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]) (1839)
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 engaging.
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.
Robert Beattie 

Immaculate phrasing and a wonderful selection of colours and contrasts.