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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
(1838) [34:46]
Per NØRGÅRD (b.1932)
(1967-68) [11:24]
Turn (1973) [11:16]
Unfolding (2012) [6:11]
Katrine Gislinge (piano)
rec. Engelsholm Castle, Bredsten, Denmark, 4-8 April 2012

I like the music of Robert Schumann; however I am not a ‘groupie’. After hearing Vladimir Horowitz’s 1970 recording of Kreisleriana I felt no need to explore further. The vinyl was succeeded by the CD in my collection. This performance has been dissected by critics, but still remains a benchmark as far as I - and many others - are concerned. The few other interpretations I have heard in the recital room or on CD have not induced me to move from my preference for Horowitz.
Katrine Gislinge’s new release on Danacord has forced me to remember that there can be more than one interpretation of any given work in my record library. This beautiful, intimate, rendering has allowed me to see the music in a different light. It has not displaced the Horowitz but it has enlarged my understanding of this complex sequence.
Schumann was immensely proud of Kreisleriana and regarded it as his best work for piano. He took the fictional character of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler as his inspiration. This Kreisler featured in some of the stories and musical articles by E.T.A. Hoffmann. The character may have been based on a wandering half-mad pianist called Ludwig Böhner. It is quite impossible to define what elements of the story are present in any given movement, although there have been numerous suggestions. What we hear displays the ‘mannerisms’ of Schumann although the general mood of the work differs from much of his music. It tends to lack a little of the warmth of pieces such as Carnival and the innocence of Scenes of Childhood. There is a fantastic and often grotesque character to many passages in Kreisleriana that must have sounded strange to its first hearers. Yet, in spite of the work’s eccentricities there is much that is poetical and comprehensible. The basic mood is that of introspection played out against a wild, devil-may-care attitude. After all, Schumann is musing on a half-mad pianist. It was dedicated to Chopin; however, it more likely enshrines his love of Clara Wieck. The piece was written in only four days during April 1838. It consists of eight contrasting movements but each also contains considerable internal disparity. It is this element that presents the greatest challenge. A reviewer of the Horowitz version stated that the interpretation resolves down to its presentation as a ‘pastel’ of ‘primary colours’. Gislinge has opted for the former, but has not lost any of the work’s disturbing feel. Her reading errs on the side of introspection rather than of emphatic point-making. She has discovered and emphasised the work’s magical side. It was a wise decision.
Per Nørgård is one of Scandinavia’s senior composers, having turned 80 last year (2012). As The Guardian’s music critic pointed out, he is a musician who relates to both Sibelius and to the South Park movie score. His music is adventurous, imaginative and powerful. Norgärd has successfully transcended the dominance of various schools of music over the decades and has created a realm that is entirely his own. Major influences include Jean Sibelius, the avant-garde ‘scene’ of the nineteen-sixties, folk-music and Eastern philosophy. He has written in most genres, including symphonies, operas, film music, chamber works and piano pieces. His works are journeys of sound that explore a pluralistic world of textures, harmonies and melodic adventures. His music is approachable even to listeners who claim not to ‘do modern music’. I find his style refreshing and challenging when heard amongst much of the anodyne post-minimalism that calls itself ‘contemporary’.
Grooving was composed during 1967-8 and was written for Mrs. Elizabeth Klein who gave the work’s premiere. Unconventionally, the piece was dedicated to the composer himself (My inner self). To the ’sixties generation, ‘grooving’ means having a good time, ‘digging’ ‘getting on down’ or ‘chillin’’; it was originally an African-American euphemism for sex. None of these definitions applies to Nørgård’s work - this is an introverted, meditative piece that creates a timeless mood.
Turn was written in 1973 and was once again given its first performance by Elizabeth Klein. Nørgård has reworked the success of Grooving although here the mood is much more proactive. I understand that Turn was originally conceived for the clavichord. It was deemed to be one of several preliminary studies for his Third Symphony. The work makes early use of Nørgård’s own ‘infinity series’ which is a development of Schoenberg’s system. There is nothing difficult to understand in this piece. It is full of arpeggios and is sometimes downright romantic-sounding. Turn is a great introduction to this composer’s music.
Nørgård’s final offering is his late Unfolding which was written for, and dedicated to, Katrine Gislinge. It is based on a melody that the composer finds ‘quite magical’. He suggests that the construction of this contemplative piece is a balance between its ‘mathematical dimension, but also a sensuousness’. The stylistic references are impossible to pin down: this is timeless and universal. It was composed in 2012.
Katrine Gislinge is a Danish pianist who has established herself as a major performer in Scandinavia and further afield. She has given many solo recitals throughout Europe and has also specialised in playing chamber music. Gislinge has appeared at many music events including the London City Festival. She has featured in a handful of CDs including chamber works by Kodály and contemporary Danish composers.
The recording is ideal. Much of this music is warm, and the engineers have reflected this disposition in the chosen ambience. Nevertheless, I have a few reservations about the liner-notes. The cover picture is in my opinion, hardly flattering. The combination of a small orange font on a brown background does not make for easy reading. The liner-notes are presented in Danish and English, but are printed in such a tiny font that I was unable or unwilling to study them. This is a pity, as they take the form of an interview between Per Nørgård and the pianist in which they discuss the concept of the album. I had to use a magnifying glass to scan this interview, just to check I was not missing any great revelations ... and my eyes are not too bad for a fifty-something. Lastly, I feel that Danacord could have squeezed a couple more numbers onto this CD; 62 minutes is just a wee bit mean.
The programming of Kreisleriana and Nørgård’s three pieces was a happy choice. They share internal contrasting moods and are fundamentally reflective. This introspection does not mask considerable invention, conflicting emotions and a successful pianistic style. As far as the Schumann goes, it will remain, alongside Horowitz, as my preferred Kreisleriana for some time to come.
John France