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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young) Op. 68 (1848)
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. 2014/15, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK

Schumann loved children and was a devoted and engaged father. He played with them, introduced them to books and encouraged them to play the piano. He started composing the Album for the Young to provide his daughter Marie with suitable simple material. Although earlier composers had written material suitable for children or beginners – think of Bach’s Inventions or Beethoven’s Op. 49 sonatas – teaching material in Schumann’s time was dull. Amazingly, Breitkopf and Härtel, his regular publishers, rejected the work and it first came out from another firm. It proved to be the most popular of his works in his lifetime and indeed is still used for its original purpose. His Dresden friend the artist Ludwig Richter designed a charming cover picture for it which must have contributed to the work’s success.

The work consists of 43 pieces, most of which are very short – the longest is just over four minutes. Although Schumann completed it in sixteen days this does not mean that he was careless or slapdash. He revised carefully and also rejected some pieces entirely. It is remarkable how he managed to simplify his idiom to bring it within a child’s technique and understanding while retaining its integrity. From no 19 Kleine Romanze he gradually introduces new requirements, such as varying the touch, transferring the tune to the left hand, having both melody and accompaniment in the same hand, fuller chords, octaves, rapid staccato passages and increased chromaticism. He constantly varies his requirements and the moods of the separate pieces so there is a great deal of variety. Although the pieces are not formally presented as studies they can be used precisely to develop the young player’s technique. Some of the later pieces are really quite challenging and some are exercises in the idiom of other composers: No. 35 Mignon is like one of Liszt’s Petrarch sonnets, the No. 40 Kleine Fuge begins with a Prelude, like one of Bach’s, followed by a fugue using the same material which seems a distant cousin of that in Beethoven’s piano sonata Op. 110. They are also good to listen to, although obviously Schumann did not conceive them as a cycle to be played as a whole in the way he did his piano cycles of the 1830s.

Few of the well-known Schumann players have recorded the Album. Vladimir Feltsman, a Russian émigré pianist now based in New York, has done us a service by offering the work on what appears to be his first all-Schumann release. He is a romantic pianist in the high old-fashioned way, frequently spreading chords and sometimes playing the left hand before the right. In the penultimate piece, Figurierter Choral, he makes a repetition which is not marked in my edition but he does not over-sophisticate the simpler pieces. He gives every phrase a shape and uses a great variety of colour. He writes his own sleeve-note (in English only).

Schumann may not have written his album with a view to performance by a concert pianist but it is certainly worth hearing in this sympathetic recording.

Stephen Barber

Previous review: Ralph Moore

List of individual pieces with translations of titles
Melodie  (Melody), C major
Soldatenmarsch (Soldiers' march), G major
Trällerliedchen (Humming song), C major
Ein Choral (Chorale), G major
Stückchen (A little piece), C major
Armes Waisenkind (The poor orphan), A minor
Jägerliedchen (Hunting song), F major
Wilder Reiter (The wild horseman), A minor
Volksliedchen (Folk song), D minor
Fröhlicher Landmann, von der Arbeit zurückkehrend  (The merry peasant, returning from work), F major
Sizilianisch (Sicilienne), A minor
Knecht Ruprecht The knight Ruprecht), A minor
Mai, lieber Mai (May, sweet May), E major
Kleine Studie (Little etude), G major
Frühlingsgesang (Spring song), E major
Erster Verlust (First loss), E minor
Kleiner Morgenwanderer (Little morning wanderer), A major
Schnitterliedchen (The reaper's song), C major
Kleine Romanze (Little romance), A minor
Ländliches Lied (Rustic song), A major
(untitled), C major (based on Prison-Terzetto ("Euch werde Lohn in bessern Welten") from Beethoven's Fidelio)
Rundgesang (Roundelay), A major
Reiterstück (The horseman), D minor
Ernteliedchen (Harvest song), A major
Nachklänge aus dem Theater (Echoes from the theatre), A minor
(untitled), F major
Kanonisches Liedchen (A little canon), A minor
Erinnerung (4 November 1847) (Remembrance), A major (the date of Felix Mendelssohn's death)
Fremder Mann (The stranger), D minor
(untitled), F major
Kriegslied (Song of war), D major
Sheherazade, A minor
Weinlesezeit – fröhliche Zeit! (Gathering of the grapes – happy time!), E major
Thema (Theme), C major
Mignon, E-flat major
Lied italienischer Marinari (Italian mariners' song), G minor
Matrosenlied (Sailors' Song), G minor
Winterzeit I (Wintertime I), C minor (sometimes considered one piece with Wintertime II)
Winterzeit II (Wintertime II), C minor/C major
Kleine Fuge (Little fugue), A major
Nordisches Lied (Northern Song – Salute to G.), F major (dedicated to the Danish composer Niels Gade; it is based on the cryptogram G-A-D-E)
Figurierter Choral (Figured chorale), F major
Sylvesterlied (New Year's Eve), A major



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