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Colors - Schumann: Carnaval; Liszt / Daniel Pollack

Release Date: 09/04/2007 
Label:  Rcm   Catalog #: 12007   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Robert SchumannFranz Liszt
Performer:  Daniel Pollack
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUMANN Carnaval. Fantasy in C. LISZT Funérailles. Mephisto Waltz No. 1 Daniel Pollack (pn) RCM 12007 (78:25)

Above, I review a Naxos recording by Daniel Pollack performing the complete solo piano works of Samuel Barber. Here we find Pollack in repertoire both more familiar and more frequently visited Read more by other artists. Unlike the Barber album, however, which was recorded in 1995, the current release is more recent, having been recorded in June 2006 at the University of Southern California’s Alfred Newman Hall. The CD at hand bears the title Colors , though the description of the four works on the disc as “an apt exemplar of the gamut of 19th-century pianistic colors ,” it seems to me, could just as easily be applied to any four randomly selected 19th-century solo piano compositions.

Carnaval is not Schumann’s only work that contains anagrammatically encoded messages. The 21 brief movements that comprise the piece are programmatic, each intended to represent a masked reveler at the festival preceding Lent. Additionally, each vignette contains a musical cryptogram based on the notes A, E?, C, B (in German, the equivalent of A-S-C-H); A?, C, B (the equivalent of As-C-H); and/or E?, C, B, A (the equivalent of S-C-H-A). These ciphers have multiple meanings. “F asch ing” is the German word for carnival. “Asch,” by itself, is the German word for ash, as in Ash Wednesday. It also happens to be the name of the Czech town in which Schumann’s pre-Clara infatuation, Ernestine von Fricken, was born. They were engaged to be married when Schumann broke it off with the 16-year-old Ernestine to take up a relationship with the then 15-year-old Clara. I guess he liked them young. Finally, the S-C-H-A anagram contains “ Sch um a nn’s” name.

Appreciation of the piece will no doubt be enhanced for those with access to a score and/or for those who possess perfect pitch. All other “handicapped” listeners will simply have to enjoy the music for its natural beauties and for the allure of Pollack’s performance, which paints the coquettish, balletic, mercurial, and sometimes poignant commedia dell’arte characters with a fine brush. Despite Chopin’s judgment of the work as “not music at all,” Schumann’s Carnaval has won hearts and minds to become a staple of the solo piano repertoire with more than 100 recordings to choose from. I’ve long enjoyed Marc-André Hamelin’s Hyperion recording, which was glowingly reviewed by Peter J. Rabinowitz in Fanfare 29:6, even making it to his 2006 Want List. But this new recording by Pollack needn’t take a back seat to Hamelin’s nor to those by others I’ve heard.

According to pianist, composer, and music scholar Ernest Hutcheson, Schumann’s Fantasy in C Major, op. 17, is Schumann’s greatest work in large form for piano solo. Whether it is or isn’t—some might argue for the F?-Minor Sonata—it was certainly his most avowed effort to produce a work that honored the legacy of Beethoven. Proceeds from sales of the piece were intended to go toward the erection of a Beethoven monument, and the first movement contains a quote from Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte . Murray Perahia has always been high on my list of interpreters of Schumann’s solo piano music, but some find his readings on the cool side. That cannot be said of Pollack, who plays the Fantasy with an outpouring of extroverted passion and a demonstration of consummate technique.

Liszt’s Funérailles is the seventh and best-known piece from a cycle of 10 numbers collected under the title of Harmonies poétiques et religieuses (Poetic and Religious Harmonies). Funereal in a way that only Liszt could have conceived of, the piece is subtitled “1849,” a reference to the putdown of the Hungarian Revolution by the Hapsburgs. Some of Liszt’s solo piano music I find attractive and satisfying—the B-Minor Sonata and the Années de pèlerinage , for instance—but Funérailles is not among the composer’s works that appeal to me. There is something about it I find tasteless, as if it’s either too insincere in its sincerity or perhaps too sincere in its insincerity; I’m not sure which. In any case, Pollack’s performance of it is not to be faulted for my dislike of the piece. In a comparison with Leslie Howard’s performance of the piece in his complete Liszt cycle for Hyperion, I find Pollack equal to Howard in tracing the music’s manic mood swings from grief-stricken to defiant.

The version of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1 for solo piano is a kind of backwards arrangement in that the first two of the composer’s four so-named waltzes were originally written for orchestra and later reduced for one and two pianos. Mainly a display of technical virtuosity, the piece is dashed off with predictable panache by both Horowitz and by John Ogdon, but Pollack lacks nothing in agility or dexterity.

Recommended for excellent playing and superb recorded sound.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Carnaval, Op. 9 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Daniel Pollack (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1833-1835; Germany 
Length: 22 Minutes 6 Secs. 
Phantasie for Piano in C major, Op. 17 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Daniel Pollack (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1836-1838; Germany 
Length: 28 Minutes 14 Secs. 
Harmonies poétiques et réligieuses, S 173: no 7, Funérailles by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Daniel Pollack (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845-1852; Weimar, Germany 
Length: 11 Minutes 51 Secs. 
Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke, S 514 "Mephisto Waltz no 1" by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Daniel Pollack (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1859-1860; Weimar, Germany 
Length: 11 Minutes 22 Secs. 

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