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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Waldszenen, Op. 82 (1848/49) [22:15]
Symphonische Etüden, Op. 13 (1834-37, rev. 1852) [31:56]
Arabeske in C major, Op. 18 (1839) [6:05]
Martin Helmchen (piano)
rec. November 2011, Siemens Villa, Berlin, Germany
SACD DSD Hybrid Multi-channel Stereo

Berlin-born in 1982, Martin Helmchen has notched up an enviable list of concert performances including Berlin and Vienna concerts. Helmchen is also a passionate recitalist and it is with his partnership with Julia Fischer in a recording of the Franz Schubert complete works for violin and piano on Pentatone Classics that I first came across his playing.
The Waldszenen (Forest Scenes) comprises nine short pieces and has similarities in both style and character to the famous set of Kinderszenen (1838). These are not merely light and affectionate as the title might suggest and soloist Helmchen fluidly communicates a broad range of feelings and emotions including a strong sense of determination, drama and mystery. Among other Waldszenen I have long enjoyed the eloquently stimulating playing of Maria João Pires on Deutsche Grammophon 437 538-2 (1994).
As the basis for his Symphonische Etüden Schumann used a C sharp minor theme by Baron von Fricken, an amateur musician who was the adopted parent of Schumann’s sweetheart Ernestine von Fricken. On this recording Helmchen has included additional pieces that Schumann had withdrawn from the set prior to publication. Helmchen here blends precision and penetration with subtle shades of colour. The Symphonische Etüden account that I have long admired is that by the masterly expressive Maurizio Pollini on Deutsche Grammophon 445 522-2 (1994).
Schumann composed his Arabeske during a time of considerable emotional turmoil. He had been forbidden to see his future wife Clara by her disapproving father and could only communicate with her through letters and music. Helmchen adeptly and crisply negotiates the changing moods with fluency and charm. Of other recordings I am especially fond of the poised DG version by Maria João Pires also on the 1994 Deutsche Grammophon 437 538-2.
This Pentatone Classics release is a hybrid SACD which I played on my standard CD player. Recorded in 2011 Helmchen has the benefit of fairly close and crystal-clear sound. Although not my first choice versions Helmchen plays splendidly and is beautifully recorded. I cannot imagine too many lovers of Romantic piano music being disappointed with this fine Schumann recording.
Michael Cookson

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