Schumann

CD 1

“Abegg” Variations, Op.1
Clara Haskil (recorded 1938)
Papillons, Op.2
Alfred Cortot (1935)
Presto passionato in G minor
Vladimir Horowitz (1932)
Etudes symphoniques, Op.13
Alfred Cortot (1929)
Carnaval, Op.9
Sergei Rachmaninov (1929)

CD 2

Carnaval, Op.9
Leopold Godowsky (1929)
Fantasie, Op.17
Edwin Fischer (1949)
Fantasiestücke, Op.12 (Nos.1-3)
Yves Nat (1937)
Fantasiestücke, Op.12 (No.7)
Vladimir Horowitz (1932)

CD 3

Davidsbündlertänze, Op.6
Walter Gieseking (1947)
Kreisleriana, Op.16
Claudio Arrau (1946)
Kinderszenen, Op.15
Yves Nat (1930)

CD 4

Arabeske, Op.18
Vladimir Horowitz (1934)
Arabeske, Op.18
Claudio Arrau (1947)
Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op.26
Magda Tagliaferro (1934)
Romanze, Op.28/2
Magda Tagliaferro (1934)
Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op.26
Yves Nat (1938)
Waldszenen, Op.82
Clara Haskil (1947)
Waldszenen, Op.82 (No.7 “Vogel als Prophet”)
Alfred Cortot (1948)
CD No: ANDANTE 1964 (4 CDs)
Duration:
Reviewed: December 2002
Andante releases attempt to reconcile several diverse demands: to give an overview of a particular composer, artist, or repertoire; to give insight into performing traditions; to be benchmarks of transfer technology; and also to be historical documents.
Here is a treasure-trove of legendary performers. There is also at least one recording of each of Schumann’s popular piano works. This set would serve as a fine introduction to Schumann’s piano oeuvre, as well as being a source of research, and undiscovered delights, for the enthusiast.
Typical of Andante releases, this one has an exemplary mixture of illustrations and essays, and programme and biographical notes. The epigraph for the whole package is from the literary critic Roland Barthes. He refers to Schumann’s piano music as “intimate (which does not mean gentle) or, again, private, even individual, refractory to a professional approach, since to play Schumann implies a technical innocence that very few artists can attain.”
These golden-age performances are certainly ideal advocates of Barthes’s opinions. Every single one presents a distinctive and original artistic viewpoint; each illuminates some aspect of Schumann’s self-presentation between his two sides, the introspective Eusebius and the worldly Florestan.
As a release that could serve as a synoptic survey, then, how do these renditions fare in terms of today’s demand for accuracy?Not at all badly, certainly if judged by the standards of live performances – most of these recordings have an acceptably low quota of wrong notes. Even Cortot’s Etudes symphoniques (including the posthumous variations) which are discussed at some length in the essay by Stephen Wigler is not so reprehensible in its splashy ’Finale’ as the criticism suggests. Wigler is right too in pointing to both Cortot’s non-lauded technical expertise and his poeticism – what can too often be a stodgy and repetitive piece, especially with the additional movements, is in Cortot’s hands constantly challenging and insightful.
Much of what is to be found here confirms received opinion – from Horowitz an Arabeske more masculine, more serious, altogether more Florestan-like than the norm, which is followed by the slighter, fleeter, altogether more ’modern’ version by Arrau, and contrasted with an especially yielding, tender, Papillons from Cortot. There are surprises too. Presumably because Godowsky’s Carnaval was recorded only a year before the end of his career, his fabled technique is heard to such disadvantage. Treating the piece as a virtuoso exercise, Godowsky accelerates impetuously in fast passages and almost invariably goes straight off the rails.Rachmaninov’s Carnaval, recorded in the same year, 1929, combines security, passion and imagination, and is far more inspirational. Rachmaninov plays with extraordinary artistic licence, making full use of agogic accents and rubato, and the various characters and scenes have surely never been so individually portrayed. From the unashamedly theatrical opening, Rachmaninov brings the score more to life than any subsequent performance I can think of. It is excellent that this classic of the gramophone is included here.
While it is too simple to divide Schumann interpretation into a more feminine, Eusebian, French school, and the more German and Russian adherents of Florestan, there are certain tendencies and traditions to be observed. Cortot’s pupils, Clara Haskil and Magda Tagliaferro, were, together with Yves Nat, the inheritors of Cortot’s fantastical, spiritual and sometimes flawed style. Comparisons between the four are especially instructive. Tagliaferro’s contribution – the Romanze and Faschingsschwank – are especially impressive in their strength and warmth – though Nat is eminently refined, civilised and discriminating in his version of Faschingsschwank, which follows on the same disc for instructive comparison. Tagliaferro is superior in making sense of what can be a disparate, even flabby work. For Nat it is a work of whimsy, a set of fleeting perceptions stitched together almost by chance; for Tagliaferro it is a unified microcosm of Romanticism, divided between the metaphor of the carnival-jest, the moonlit longing of the two slower movements and the aggressive cry of the ’Finale’. Nat’s lighter approach suits Kinderszenen; he brings out the humour and innocence of the work without making what is a very adult exposition of childhood more laboured than it need be.
In the same way, Haskil lends a streak of discipline and measure to the “Abegg” Variations and Waldszenen. Cortot’s “Vogel als Prophet”, which follows Haskil’s complete performance, is a typical and excellent comparison. Haskil is slower – indeed very slow – but also steadier, lacking the last degree of originality, and also Cortot’s destructive waywardness. Both prophet birds are indeed mystical and spiritual, and so different.
Again, it would be a truism to say that as Schumann interpretation has neared the present day, it has become less self-indulgent, more straightforward, and generally less interesting. However, the more Germanic, post-war approach – represented by Fischer, Gieseking and Arrau – is generally more transparent, not seeking any hidden meaning behind Schumann’s notes, nor paying excessive attention to any aspect of his melancholy or longing. Fischer’s Fantasie lets the music speak for itself, even down to a very understated view of the slow meditative conclusion.
Arrau’s Kreisleriana is extraordinarily – though deliberately – plain. Arrau deals easily with the considerable technical demands – the very difficult conclusion to No.3 and the toccata-like No.7 are thrown off, but his reserved playing seems less ready to explore the hidden spiritual qualities of the piece. Gieseking’s Davidsbündlertänze is easily the most successful performances for me – robust and outgoing, then reflective and lyrical by turns. Listen to the simplicity of No.11, the transition between fast and slow in No.15 – Gieseking achieves a perfect marriage of forcefulness and reticence: yes, of Florestan and Eusebius. The playing is always simple, yet never once does the listener’s attention falter.
It may be argued that the sound of the piano in ’historic recordings’ is easier on the ear than strings or wind. In any case, Andante’s transfers are excellent – listen to how good the sound is from 1929, for example, though there is no attempt to hide inevitable hiss at the cost of fidelity to the original. In terms of musical and historic interest, exposition of repertoire and intellectual coherence, this is a very successful release.

 

© 1999 - 2017 www.classicalsource.com Limited. All Rights Reserved