Etudes symphoniques, Op.13 [including the posthumous variations]
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
Recorded 14-15 May 2006 in the Grosser Saal, Konzerthaus, Vienna
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: February 2007
CD No: WARNER CLASSICS
Duration: 65 minutes
Both these performances have much to reveal about Schumann’s music. Warmth of tone and clarity of execution are hallmarks of Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s individual and perceptive accounts that are finely balanced and very expressive. It wouldn’t take much working out that Aimard is French; there is an insouciance here and a clarity that rather suggests his nationality.
The opening of Etudes symphoniques is warmly inviting, magical and compelling, and how expressive Aimard makes trills – they take on Beethovenian significance. The five ‘posthumous variations’ are included as a group (some pianists, if including at all, intersperse them – probably the better solution). Aimard’s romance and enquiry, touching expression and structural prowess (if more rhapsodic in the Etudes than is normally the case), and rapt communication serve Schumann’s construction and flights of fancy admirably; there is though the slight suspicion that he makes this work too much a succession of vignettes – but there is so much that touches the heart that this is no more than a passing quibble.
Conversely, Carnaval could be more characterised than it is, but there is, again, much to be entranced by, not least Aimard’s lack of indulgence and his lightness of touch. Interestingly, he includes the bizarre set of chords known as ‘Sphinxes’, which most pianists pass over, yet how pertinent they seem to the succeeding ‘Papillons’. Just occasionally Aimard is a little too fleet with some of the 21 numbers that constitute Carnaval, but ‘Chopin’ is given with especial rapture (as interpreted by Aimard Chopin is more than usually alluded to in both these works) and ‘Reconnaissance’ is perfectly judged in both tempo and strumming-effect.
The recordings, made at recitals with just the merest rustle of an audience (and no applause), present Aimard with tangibility and lucidity; ideal for his approach. If neither performance could be claimed as a first-choice, each is full of very good things and often more than that. Strongly recommended.