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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young) Op.68 (1848)
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. 2014/15; Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK. DDD NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6307 [76:16]
This is in many ways an easy recording to review as everything about it - presentation, sound and artistry - is pleasing. Vladimir Feltsman has already displayed the mastery and versatility of his art in a series of first rate recordings for Nimbus; now this issue may take its place in his discography as a highly desirable modern version of music not especially richly represented in the catalogue.
The Album for the Young is a collection of 43 short piano pieces originally written by Schumann for his three daughters as a result of his dissatisfaction with the practice material then available. They are much more than technical exercises, being exquisite little portraits which may be played for pleasure by children and adults alike; this is music which brings to mind the old aphorism about Mozart’s piano music being “too easy for amateurs and too difficult for professionals”. The first eighteen are simpler, the remainder, “für Erwachsenere” (for more grown up ones) more complex. The shortest,” The Wild Horseman”, lasts only thirty-five seconds, the longest, “Wintertime II, just over four minutes, but by and large each takes only a minute or two and their variety makes the 76 minutes’ duration of the recital pass quickly.
This is essentially “Hausmusik” for private, domestic pleasure and consumption, not performance in a hall and thus suits the intimacy afforded by a recording, especially if listened to on earphones, when Feltsman’s tonal nuances and dynamic subtleties emerge clearly. The sound is typical of Nimbus’ engineering: warm, slightly reverberant and not too close to the piano. It also reveals the perceptible, and in this case quite endearing, trait common to many interpreters, of occasionally providing a background vocalise obbligato which is not by any means too distracting but rather indicative of the delight Feltsman takes in the melodies he is playing.
The music is charming, full of rippling melody and engaging caprice. The simple, opening melody is a nursery tune reminiscent of Mozart; there follows a medley of neatly characterised miniatures mostly on a seasonal or rustic theme. The subject matter of some, like the “Hunting Song”, is instantly apparent to the ear, others less so, so it would have been nice if Nimbus had provided English translations of the individual titles for non-German speakers. Without resorting to a dictionary or Wikipedia, the casual listener will be left wondering what titles such as “Erinnerung” (Remembrance/Memento/Souvenir/Keepsake/Reminiscence – take your pick), “Weinlesezeit” (Grape Harvest), “Schnitterliedchen” ( The Reaper’s Song) and “Erntliedchen” (Harvest Song) mean.
As Feltsman remarks in his notes, you cannot imagine this music being played on anything other than a piano, such is its typically Romantic reliance upon colour and texture, but a few pieces such as “Little Étude” glance backwards to Bach, only to be immediately succeeded by a piece of arch-Romantic sensibility in “Spring Song”.
A delightful recital from one of the best pianists active today. Ralph Moore