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
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
. 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
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
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.
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
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
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