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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Noveletten op.21 (1838) [47:35]
Nachtstücke op.23 (1839) [19:08]
Romanze op.28 (1839): no.2 [3:51]
Danny Driver (piano)
rec. 16-18 September 2013, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, UK
HYPERION CDA67983 [70:36]

In Download News 15 Geoffrey Molyneux wrote that he could not “imagine the Novelletten better played”, and is highly complimentary about Danny Driver’s performances of the other pieces. I am happy to agree with all of his comments, and add that the exceptionally rich and fine piano sound in this recording makes it a real all-round treat in every regard.

Misha Donat’s well-prepared booklet notes tell us pretty much everything we need to know about these works and Schumann’s circumstances at the time of their genesis. Schumann himself came to regard the Novelletten as amongst his most significant piano works, and their “exultant mood” is communicated with tremendous effectiveness here. This work is described as “the largest and least known among Schumann’s major piano cycles”. There are numerous other recordings around, but a lack of links to other reviews on this site does seem to indicate a dearth. One such is that of Franz Vorraber on the Thorofon label (see review), which tortures the rhythm at every corner and seems to lack much in the way of logical flow. I agree with Don Satz’s summary of this performance as being “aggressive, heavy, abrupt and sharp”. Such recordings inevitably crop up as part of complete surveys but there are also single disc versions to be had. More impetuous than Driver is Wolfram Lorenzen on Troubadisc TRO-CD01435, well recorded and initially more spectacular, but this playing ultimately wears us out with its triumph of bravura over poetry. Names such as Jörg Demus, Yves Nat and Nikolai Demidenko crop up and I’ve had a listen to several online – always something of a dodgy experiment when it comes to sound quality, but it serves to orientate. Where Driver’s playing wins through is in his willingness to colour as well as to shape phrases, both in the livelier and more energetic pieces and the gentler and more intimate moments. This multi-layered refinement informs Schumann’s music from the most exciting or playful to the more poetic and deeply felt passages.

The contrast between the Novelletten and the Nachtstücke could hardly be greater, the funereal aspect of the latter infused with fearful premonitions and news of Schumann’s brother’s death. Danny Driver doesn’t lay on these emotional associations with a trowel, moving us more with restraint and an aura of silence. Contrasts with an earlier generation of pianists can for instance be heard in No. 4: Einfach, with Driver using more sustain in the procession of chords when compared with the likes of Horowitz or Rubinstein. These two, in their own unique ways, separate and give a more sprightly tinge to the ‘march’ aspects of this piece, making it more a finale to a concert than a finale to life itself. The closing Romanze is lyrical and consolatory; a postlude in a programme which indeed seems to sum up Schumann’s all too brief life in miniature.

Dominy Clements