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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kinderszenen, Op. 15 [20:24]
Abegg Variations, Op. 1 [8:22]
Fantasie in C, Op. 17 [32:02]
Lise de la Salle (piano)
rec. December 2013, Sendesaal Bremen, Germany
NAÏVE V5364 [60:48]

Lise de la Salle, born in 1988, arrived on the recording scene as a flashy teenager with youthful fire. Now she seems to have matured hastily, into a senior citizen. That’s both a compliment and not. Her interpretations are poetic, soft-edged, slow and very pretty, but sometimes this crosses the line into preciousness and tedium. The faster bits of Kinderszenen are well-voiced and admirably clear — the short ride of the hobby-horse is brilliant — and the tenth section, “Almost too serious,” definitely works. However “Träumerei” and “The poet speaks” are far too self-conscious about their own beauty. Michael Endres, Wilhelm Kempff and Annie Fischer are pianists who achieve the same aw-shucks lyrical polish without overdoing it.
 
The Fantasie in C, Op. 17, my favourite work of all Schumann, has this issue too, but not the way you’d expect. I thought the third movement would be reduced to a crawl, but no, it’s actually rather fast. It’s the first movement that sometimes gets bogged down, and not by slowness, but by clunky, bland phrasing of some of the more difficult, mysterious passages of the development. The central march is full of energy and oompah-enthusiasm, but its midsection plays like a nocturne and the return to march tempo is rather awkwardly handled. If Ms de la Salle is reading this then I would ask her to listen to the recent Joaquín Achucarro CD (La Dolce Volta) to hear how a performance that’s high on contrast can also be riveting start to finish.
 
The Abegg Variations separate the two big works, and they’re pretty terrific and wittily played, aside from a couple of truly enormous pauses between variations. Before the final coda, the pause stretches so long I actually thought, “I don’t remember the piece ending like that”.
 
I’m of two minds about this release. Lise de la Salle’s heart is in the right place. So are the microphones, by the way; great sound. Her interpretations are well-considered and mature, and she succeeds at everything she wants to achieve but when does much rumination become too much rumination? Is it when “The poet speaks” sounds like Mompou? I think the line is crossed here, not always, but enough that I can’t decide whether to praise this or not. Based on the above description, I hope you can tell if this is your kind of recital. If she records this music again in ten years, the results might be well worth the wait.
 
Brian Reinhart