This is Volume 8 of what the booklet notes tell us will when done and dusted be a series of 15 CDs. This is intended as the first genuinely complete recording of Schumann’s piano music. It's a lot to live up to and there is no doubt that this set is becoming a greatly important and useful one. It is a shame therefore that this disc does not quite hit the high standards of some of the London-based German pianist, Florian Uhlig’s earlier discs in the series.
The present CD contains two of my favourite works by Schumann, the Davidsbündlertänze Op. 6 and the Carnaval Op. 9. These are the works in which we first meet the composer's alter egos: Eusebius and Florestan. I was brought up on Peter Frankl’s much underrated series of Vox Boxes. I still miss those recordings of these magnificent works. This is romantic music par excellence, and it takes someone like Frankl to bring out every nuance; something which on this occasion Uhlig does not quite live up to.
The disc opens with Carnaval Op. 9. Whilst not the slowest version I have on disc Uhlig somehow certainly makes it sounds as if it is. Of the more modern pianists, I prefer Freddy Kempf on Bis (BIS-CD-960), who though slightly slower overall has more drive where it matters. Sadly I don’t have Frankl playing the work on disc, although for a pianist of the same generation, Jörg Demus’ recording for Nuova Era, which is being reissued by Membran (231752), takes some beating. It is nearly four and a half minutes shorter than Uhlig’s, with the result being one of exhilaration and brilliance.
This is followed by a series of short works which the booklet tells us were originally composed for inclusion in Carnaval. For one reason or another, they were later dropped from the completed work and employed elsewhere. There are also three fragments which have been edited by Joachim Draheim for inclusion here. Whilst it is good to hear these pieces in their original context, it is to be hoped that they will be included in their published form too.
The Davidsbündlertänze is for me, one of the finest pieces of piano writing. Happily, Uhlig is stronger in this work, giving a more inspired and polished performance. This is despite it once again being the slowest version that I have. There are many fine recordings, not least those by Wilhelm Kempff (DG 477 8693) and Maurizio Pollini (DG 471 369), but here Uhlig more than holds his own. It is as if he has really got to the heart of the score.
The recorded sound is excellent as are the booklet notes by Joachim Draheim, the editor of the fragments. They are scholarly and informative and make a strong case for this wonderful music. So overall then, a useful recording rather than a first choice, though it is only Carnaval which slightly lets the recording down. This will be a most valuable set when completed, but as with all ‘complete sets’, not everything hits the heights of perfection.