Robert SCHUMANN (1810-56)
Albumblätter, Op.124 (1832-45) [30:39]
Variations sur un étude de Chopin, Anhang F26 (c1835) [5:29]
Kreisleriana, Op.16 (1838) [37:25]
Daniel Levy (piano)
rec. Rosslyn Chapel, London 2016 EDELWEISS EDEM3385 [74:00]
This is the first in a projected series of Schumann recordings by the Argentine-born Daniel Levy. The well-known Kreisleriana is the main attraction, but two less familiar compositions are equally welcome, especially the Chopin Variations – a work which is missing from most (if not all) CD boxes of the complete Schumann piano music.
Levy has a formidable technique which is used to serve his musical integrity, and a generous singing tone. There is nothing flashy here and, more importantly, one feels his natural understanding of Schumann's idiom. The magnificent Kreisleriana, one of Schumann's very greatest works, begins powerfully, the complex, turbulent character of the first piece approached fearlessly. Generally Levy is on top of this immensely demanding group of eight “fantasies” (Schumann's sub-title), but occasionally – in the slower pieces such as Nos. 3 and 4 - the dream-world becomes a little soporific. The essential sense of fantasy may be equally well conveyed at relatively flowing tempi. Of the various versions I have, not all those by today's most admired pianists are consistently convincing. From the previous generations, Wilhelm Kempff does prove my point in his beautiful simplicity and a kind of self-effacing understatement which is deeply impressive. Nevertheless, unfair comparisons aside, Levy gives a very satisfying performance on his own terms. To pick out small details which I would query – from bar 5 onwards in the fifth piece, the accented notes on the second beat are a little heavy for pianissimo and are less effectively sustained rather than released early. In the seventh piece (Sehr rasch) Levy's admirable impetuosity entails some sacrifice in clarity. Again, the end of the same piece – a surprising change of mood to a kind of chorale – could have been simpler. As a general observation I notice an occasional slight heaviness or over-emphasis – a rather Brahmsian weight.
The Albumblätter, most of them between one minute and two-and-a-half minutes long, are relatively neglected. Five of these pieces date from as early as 1832 (the year of Papillons, Opus 2) and thus contribute to what Joan Chissell has described as “a salvage operation”. Like many of Schumann's lesser-known groups of pieces, they are full of characteristic charm, surprises and eccentricities. No.9, for instance, is rhythmically weird, while No.19 – delightfully played – has disorientating syncopation. For those concerned by such things, it must be said that Levy does not play all repeats. In No.10 the differences between mezzo forte, forte and fortissimo are a little underplayed and No.13 would, I feel, have benefited from a simpler approach. No.16 is one of the longer pieces, Mendelssohnian in spirit, and here Levy draws out the end a shade too much – but these personal quibbles do not seriously detract from the rewarding overall impression of this performance and indeed the entire CD.
Chopin's Nocturne in G minor, Op.15 No.3 was published in 1834, but the date of Schumann's variations is uncertain, believed to be some time between autumn 1835 and the following spring. This work (Anhang F26) was discovered in incomplete form and some scholars have surmised that Schumann probably would have added more variations. Gerd Neuhaus has made small editorial corrections and rounded off the final existing variation. There are not many recordings available and the work is very rarely played in recital, so this new version is especially welcome.
Strangely, the variations' title is printed as “sur an étude de Chopin” in three different places.