András Schiff: In Concert – Robert Schumann (ECM New Series 1806/07)

 

András Schiff
In Concert – Robert Schumann

András Schiff piano
Recorded at Tonhalle Zürich, May 30, 1999
Engineer: Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher

András Schiff returns to ECM with a live all-Schumann recital. Capturing what he sees as the composer’s “burning inventiveness,” the Hungarian pianist allows himself no contrivance in letting the notes speak on their own terms. He jumps right into the deep end with the vibrant Humoreske op. 20 (1838). Written during a time of separation from his future wife, Clara Wieck, in it Schumann incorporates a hidden “inner voice,” which he imagined as Clara’s own. Throughout its invigorating 28 minutes, we are treated to a mosaic of inner passions. Schiff handles its fluid transitions, intermezzi, and stylish moves with requisite grace, allowing plenty of space in the slower passages for the music’s full effect to shine. This is followed by the Novelletten op. 21 of the same year, which comprise the composer’s most extensive piano work. Though distinguished by its exuberant approach, it too embraces Clara’s “voice from a distance” (Stimme aus der Ferne) as a key animating force. Throughout, Schiff captures Schumann’s dynamic range admirably well, teetering between the Apollonian and Dionysian at every virtuosic turn. Yet it is in the “Concerto without Orchestra” that is the Op. 14 Piano Sonata in F minor (1836, rev. 1853) that we encounter the recital’s most luxurious moments. The pianism shines here in a finessed first movement, while making the third (a set of variations on a theme by Clara) sing like love itself. The final Presto rolls off Schiff’s fingers like water. Schumann had originally intended to call an 1839 tribute to his dying brother by the title Leichenphantasie (Corpse-fantasy). Clara convinced him to change the title for publication, thus giving us the Nachtstücke (1839), of which No. 4 constitutes a consolatory, if bittersweet, encore.

This was the first recording of Schumann’s piano music I ever heard, and is one I will always return to for reference. Schiff proves he is just as comfortable with the Romantics as he is with the Baroque masters, and in Schumann has found a most rewarding synergy. The music is, despite its grandiose touches, undeniably intimate, casting one deep look inward for every outward glance. Prosaic though they may be, these performances are anything but analytical. Whatever your familiarity with Schumann, this is an album you will want to hear.

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