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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Solo Music for Piano
Humoreske in B flat major, Op. 20 (1838) [29:36]
Impromptus (10) on a theme by Clara Schumann, Op. 5 (1833)
Klavierstücke (7) in the form of Fugues, Op. 126: no 1 (1853)
Klavierstücke (7) in the form of Fugues, Op. 126: no 4 in
D minor (1853) [2:07]
Klavierstücke (7) in the form of Fugues, Op. 126: no 7 (1853)
Phantasiestücke (3) for Piano, Op. 111: no 2 [5:32]
Theme and Variations in E flat major, ‘Geistervariationen’ (1854) [13:02]
Yael Weiss (piano)
rec. September, 2005, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, USA. DDD
CLASSICS KIC-CD-7650 [75:57]
thoughts and actions are so absorbed by Art that I am nearly
forgetting German. If I could only tell you everything in
music, how I should astonish the world by my thoughts…’
many people Schumann’s words describe the way in which his
distinctively mellow and gentle piano music affects the soul
- it’s a world in and to itself. The tonality, colour and
structure are highly personal rooms, retreat into which begins
as a pleasure and ends… as a need.
piano music is also music of deceptive simplicity. Thus
it benefits from sensitivity and thoughtfulness in performance.
Yael Weiss is a young Israeli American
pianist in her mid-thirties. Her teachers
have included Leon Fleisher and Richard Goode and she has
other attractive credentials. She’s played with several
major orchestras worldwide and is committed to intimate
- a member of the trio, Sequenza, with Mark
Kaplan (her husband) and Clancy Newman, Weiss has also held several academic positions in North
American music faculties.
early and late Schumann pieces on this CD, which are not
all often performed, have been chosen by Weiss specifically
to highlight Schumann’s intimately personal purposes in communicating
joy and tragedy. At the core of this repertoire is the ‘Humoreske’,
which reaches for an almost improvisatory style. Its context
is not so much that of ‘humour’ in the modern sense of the
word as ‘contrast’ - the usage of novelist Jean Paul, who
meant so much to Schumann. It’s the most substantial work
on the CD at nearly half an hour, and is played without
sentimentality by Weiss.
Indeed to Weiss Schumann is more of a classical composer
than a romantic. Her tempi are businesslike - though for
emphasis slow at times. In the second (ironically, ‘Hastig’)
movement of the ‘Humoreske’, they flow almost to a halt;
while the playing in the next movement could be middle period
Beethoven with a kind of relentlessness not usually associated
with Schumann’s more melancholic temperament. So too in the
fourth, ‘Innig’, as if the pianist were improvising - keen
to get one idea out of the way as another occurs. As well
as conveying mild hurry, Weiss’s playing does leave the
listener curious about what comes next. Contrasts indeed.
But then the more tightly-rendered Klavierstücke are tackled
in the same manner - a kind of forced relaxation. One’s attention
is drawn more to the frankly almost wayward momentum (the
end of the second, ‘Lebhaft’, verges on the faltering) than
to the melody. Evenness of dynamic is a characteristic of
Schumann - or should be. But such movements as the ‘Impromptus’ fourth
don’t so much heighten and lessen tension by changes in attack
as raise eyebrows: there seems to be little reason for wrenching
the music in this way. The playing - especially in the ‘Impromptus’ -
is at times almost shrill; it masks Schumann’s poetry.
Of course another presence stalks the music (particularly
the early ‘Impromptus’ - one of which is on a theme of
hers - and even more so the late E flat
major ‘Theme and Variations’, the so-called ‘Ghost Variations’ (which
only appeared in print in 1941): the ghost of Clara Wieck,
the love of Schumann’s life.
Only in what is perhaps the most quintessentially Schumannesque
work here, these ‘Geistvariationen’ (also his very last composition),
does Weiss’ playing really reveal and explore those depths
of feeling (be they misery or ‘derangement’) which the composer
knew. Written at the time of his suicide attempt, they were
claimed by Schumann to arrive from another world. The great
gift of an accomplished Schumann interpreter is to take us
to that other world. And in this case to do that by accentuating
bathos in the context of music intentionally reduced in breadth.
Here - and in the final Phantasiestücke - Weiss will best
please Schumann lovers. By relaxing.
It’s an uneven performance, then. The sleeve-notes are
written by Weiss herself. They provide a helpful commentary
on the affective aspects of how and what Schumann communicates
to the pianist. In particular she feels that playing his
music gives the performer licence to exercise an almost covert
imaginative imprint (a special communication between maker
and practitioner) on the music - the result of the composer’s
measured and conscious relinquishing of control. This might
explain some of the idiosyncrasies to be heard on this disc.
But it won’t please every Schumann devotee.
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