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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kinderszenen, Op. 15 [19:28]
Arabeske in C major, Op. 18 [6:57]
Blumenstück, Op. 19 [8:01]
Kreisleriana, Op. 16 [33:55]
Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26 [22:26]
Waldszenen, Op. 82 [21:53]
Phantasie in C major, Op. 17 [33:34]
Albumblatter, Op. 124 [31:03]
Carnaval, Op. 9 [31.30]
Bunte Blätter, Op. 99 [12:32]
Romance in F sharp major, Op. 28 No. 2 [3:49]
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. March 2014, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6324 [3 CDs: 68:21 + 77:53 + 78:54]

To my ears Schumann always sounds far more at home in his piano music than he does in his works for orchestra. Maybe the act of sitting down at a desk and writing an extended structure for orchestra and taking on board the mundane complications of scoring the music went against the grain. The simple act of being seated at the piano may have allowed him the improvisatory freedom to compose music “off the cuff” that more accurately reflected his true personality and romanticism. He was potentially set free from the constraints and drudgery of writing structured, classical symphonic music. This three disc set offers the listener the opportunity to hear the remarkable range of emotions and colours that Schumann poured into some of the greatest romantic piano music ever written. It’s quite remarkable that the majority of the pieces recorded here run for two minutes or less. Schumann had the ability to create perfect miniatures over a short time span and he often says more in a minute than many composers manage in half an hour.

Kinderscenen, a set of thirteen pieces that are generally cheerful in nature, is music about children rather than music written for children. The opening movement, Of Foreign Lands and Peoples, is given a highly romanticised reading here with a rubato that some will find a little overdone. This applies to a lesser extent to Dreaming. The remaining movements are played in a more simple fashion as befits the music. A Curious Story and Blind Man’s Bluff are played at some pace with a great sense of fun.

Kreisleriana is a series of eight short stories, containing many moments of longing. The opening movement, Ausserst bewegt, is dramatic and dark. Sehr aufgeregt is a curious mixture of scampering virtuosity allied to an underlying sense of neurosis. Sehr rasch is a thrilling virtuoso piece with fabulous counterpoint but the composer then adds a touch of genius at its conclusion with a final section of pure tenderness.

Faschingsschwank aus Wien started life as a proposed piano sonata. Consisting of five movements, the substantial opening allegro, running at over nine minutes is followed by a set of three short central movements: a meditative Romance, a bouncy Scherzino and a highly emotional, passionate Intermezzo. The finale is unbuttoned, fast and furious.

Waldszenen is a satisfying set of pieces topped and tailed with Eintritt and Abschied. The central Freundliche Landschaft is so typical of Schumann - full of elegance and grace but with an underling capriciousness and a sense of longing. This is mature Schumann with the composer at his sophisticated best.

The Phantasie - or at least the first movement - is arguably Schumann’s finest work. The spirit of Beethoven can be heard throughout its three movements. The opening movement is teeming with ideas and themes that join together seamlessly. The music is apparently full of secret messages to his wife-to-be Clara. Such messages have little consequence to the listener. What we have is some stupendous music full of drive and emotion. The second movement is uplifting and martial in character and it culminates in a coda of epic proportions with leaps that are close to being unplayable. Mr. Feltsman, of course, sails through this with apparent ease. The final movement is a glorious Liszt-like meditation played here with great emotion and touch.

Carnaval is a wonderful curiosity of a piece, consisting of twenty one short but perfect sketches. Each movement represents a reveller at a carnival. The music is full of riddles and humour. Schumann parades his contemporaries and friends in music that captures each character’s moods and idiosyncrasies. Carnaval is an intoxicating mix that keeps the listener fully engaged. It’s a cross between Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Dylan’s Desolation Row in concept. The work was once deemed to be unplayable and peculiar and yet it is now a much loved repertoire piece.

Vladimir Feltsman plays Schumann in an improvisatory and romantic style that is so necessary in this music. Only on one or two occasions did I feel that the music was being overplayed rather than being presented more simply: Kinderscenen to be more specific. He also has immense power when required, fabulous technique and a feminine touch in the more introvert, personal moments. Mr. Feltsman has already issued a highly regarded version of Schumann’s Album for the Young on Nimbus (review) and this new set can also be thoroughly recommended. It offers fabulous pianism, wonderful music and great value in terms of playing time. The recording is good with the piano set some distance away in a slightly washy acoustic.

John Whitmore



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