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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1849)
Kinderscenen Op.15 (1839); Gesange der Frühe Op.133 (1845); Davidsbundlertänze Op.6 (1838)
Franz Vorraber (piano)
Recorded May and July 2001, Venue not given
Piano Music Volume 7
THOROFON CTH 2519 [72.15]


The disc opens with an extraordinary performance of ‘Kinderscenen’. It is not, of course, a virtuoso work, many students tackle it, and many professional pianists try to make more of it than is printed on the page. They take the opportunity, if possible, to find points in the music where they might be able to show off. Franz Vorraber does not do that. Instead he plays with incredible freedom of rubato and to a certain extent almost recomposes the music before your very ears. Is there a case for this approach? Well there might be. I will explain.

Like Vorraber, I too fell in love in my early teens with Schumann’s piano music. I persuaded my own teacher that I should tackle ‘Kinderscenen’. My piano teacher at this time c.1965 was over 70. He had been a student at the Royal Academy around 1910 and he told me that his teacher at the Academy had been a pupil of Clara Schumann in Germany. My teacher played therefore with certain characteristics inherited from her and her school. He assumed that Clara played Robert’s music as he would have done. These characteristics included, often allowing the two hands not to play together, playing with often excessive rubato at the whim of the performer, repeating certain passages even if unmarked, bringing out inner parts even if not marked, treating the dynamics and articulation such as accents and staccatos only as possible guidelines and to arpeggiate chords or not arpeggiate chords depending on the performers preferred hand formations. My teacher himself played in this way but said that this "is not the way you should play Schumann nowadays". I was encouraged not to copy him but to play the composer’s markings as precisely as possible and chastised if I failed to do so. It initially came as quite a shock to me to discover that Vorraber plays Schumann like my old teacher, the tempi and expressive qualities in whose performances now seem so muddled to me that aurally I often lose my way.

Vorraber often does not begin a number at the tempo he continues with (Curious Story). He is fancy free with arpeggiated chords (Reverie). He is inconsistent with the composer’s printed articulation (The Knight of the Rocking-horse). He repeats sections not marked (Frightening). He brings out unmarked inner voices (About people and strange lands). He alters dynamics (Frightening), shortens pauses and other note values (At the Fireside). I cannot blame the editions as I have checked two and find that they agree.

Yet having said all of that I am not necessarily being negative. I genuinely feel that I am hearing this music as Schumann and his wife probably played it - a really authentic performance. I just don’t like it.

Vorraber has recorded on thirteen CDs all of Schumann’s piano music. He obviously loves it as the booklet notes by Dr. Gerd Nauhaus make clear. He has performed all of it in concert series across Europe. In other words he has had time to get to know the music - all of it, and has reached his performance style after due thought and consideration and experience.

In all the three works recorded he plays the slower pieces with that ideal sense of dreaminess. I was particularly moved by ‘Almost too serious’ where the off-beat right-hand melody is perfectly set … and rock-steady against the left hand. What is so odd is that the performance of Kinderscenen seems to settle down as it runs on so that the last movement (The poet speaks) is played completely straight, when it, more than others, probably deserves a freer approach.

Similar stylistic comments could also apply to the next work on the CD. This is Schumann’s last piano composition, the little known Op.133 ‘Gesänge der Frühe’. This is a beautiful work which needs sensitive handling and which I enjoyed in this recording. But with the ‘Davidsbundlertänze’ the same problems of over-emphasis on accents and chronically unsteady tempo often made me feel sea-sick. Coupled with that is a feeling, in some of these pieces, that the piano’s middle register was in need of more careful tuning. This quite threw me.

Having said all of that I still find Vorraber a fascinating pianist who keeps my interest. Surely that must count for a great deal.

This CD then is not for the faint-hearted. I cannot really recommend it but I will add, totally unhelpfully I know, that it is also fascinating.

Gary Higginson.



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