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Camiel Boomsma is a new name to me when it comes to pianists, though he has been making a name for himself with critically acclaimed recitals, recordings for the Etcetera label, and his performing of Wagner transcriptions. This is his debut for the Challenge Classics label.
Boomsma makes a fair bit out of the title for this album, ‘Musings’, referring to a generally reflective feeling to the pieces chosen. This is always a risky strategy, tarring an entire programme with the same expressive brush, and especially with something with as diffuse and subjective associations as this particular word. The similarities and differences between Chopin and Schubert are glimpsed but not entirely resolved in this comparison. Chopin was 10 years old when Schubert died and travelled to Vienna in 1829, but very much had both feet in the Romantic movement where Schubert is more associated with classical influences. Boomsma considers the two composers to be close in spirit when it comes to their works for piano however: “they make the instrument sing more than anyone else.” This lyrical aspect is beautifully expressed in Boomsma’s elegant performance of the Nocturne Op. 9, No. 1. He is fully prepared to reach a proper dynamic at the climax to this piece, and this is a performance that restores some confidence in a concept that could have seen things turn a bit vapid.
Boomsma takes a dreamy view to the start of the Impromptu No. 3, Op. 51, and listeners more used to something like Idil Biret’s quite fiery Naxos recording (8.550362) may find these opening bars rather flaccid. Biret’s timing is nearly a minute and a half shorter overall and full of edgy contrasts that are more stretched here, but Boomsma takes a longer view, not going full tilt from the start but building to a very effective climax. I wasn’t so sure to start with, but found myself rather warming to this approach. The lyrical nature of the two Nocturnes suit Boomsma’s nice sense of line, and he ‘sings’ with the piano in a natural way, treating the lines with elastic expressiveness but not wallowing or destroying momentum through excessive or artificial sounding rubato. Op. 48, No. 1 is the more famous of these two and, allowed to speak for itself to a large extent here, becomes a moving statement indeed.
Schubert’s great final Sonata D960 is the main meat of this recording, and a challenge for any player considering the numerous world-class performers who have gone before. As with the Chopin, I became more impressed with this performance the closer I listened. At a superficial level it seems to offer little new, and in terms of distinctive competitiveness it might pose little danger to favourites such as Maria João Pires (review) on Deutsche Grammophon, but as a personal account with plenty of qualities to recommend it this is a version to which you can relax and enjoy without fear of strange things about to happen. Boomsma has a way of delaying the drama in Schubert’s writing, pacing the climaxes in the first movement and being very effective in changing the scenery. The contrasts are not as stark as other great performances, but there is a poetry here that sticks in the memory in good ways. The Andante sostenuto is very nicely played, with more sustain pedal than Pires and not seeking multiple layers above or below the melodic line. This doesn’t quite halt the rotation of the world with heart-stopping atmosphere, but I would take this above any kind of over-indulgent playing that grates against expectations, and the lied-like central section has both a tenderness and an underlying poignancy which works very well. The Scherzo is nicely delicate, going for transparency and musicianship over virtuoso tricks. Again, the opening of the final Allegro ma non troppo suggests too much ‘non troppo’, but Boomsma always has more in reserve than you expect, and rich Viennese flavours and aromas rise up before long, inviting us to join on a homeward journey that Schubert of course derails with dramatic twists that are given their full dynamic weight in this fine performance.
With excellent SACD sound as a worthwhile selling point, this rather unusual programme is one that grows on you the more you hear it. Camiel Boomsma’s personal approach has many attractions and few distractions; you just have to switch off expectations based on previous listening and take everything at face value. The overall effect is not particularly high-octane in terms of visceral excitement, but with the title Musings you wouldn’t really expect these qualities, though if you expect to relax in the bath with this CD then the last movement of the Schubert sonata should wake you before the water gets too cold.