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Schumann: Piano & Chamber Music Vol 5 / Eric Le Sage

Release Date: 10/14/2008 
Label:  Alpha Productions   Catalog #: 129   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Robert Schumann
Performer:  Eric Le Sage
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUMANN Novelletten. 4 Marches. Piano Sonata No. 2. Nachtstücke. Phantasiestücke, op. 111. Gesänge der Frühe Eric Le Sage (pn) ALPHA 129 (2 CDs: 127:27)

This is Volume 5 of Alpha’s series dedicated to the piano and chamber music pieces of Schumann. I had the opportunity of reviewing another release in this series in Read more style="font-style:italic">Fanfare 32:2. There I found much to admire in Le Sage’s playing, finding some fault only when making comparisons to the noteworthy players already on recordings. In this collection we have pieces that are not standard fare Schumann (though hardly less worthy for that), and Le Sage presents himself well in each work, sometimes outstandingly so.

One can only guess what the turmoil of a sisterly suicide and consequent death of a father over the grief of the event played in the passionate and stormy nature of Schumann’s Second Piano Sonata. All three were written in a four-year period when the emotionally tarnished but still hopeful young composer began his work on the set of three. The op. 22 work is perhaps the most Classically graced of the bunch, but its tempestuousness far outshines any degree of pathos that a composer like Mendelssohn was able to infuse in his piano music. As such, it requires a dexterous manner of some heft while not allowing the emotive circumstances of the work to get out of hand; such a quandary often leads to sloppiness in performance, but Le Sage has things firmly under control.

The eight Novelletten , dedicated to and certainly inspired by Clara, are pieces of tremendous consistency, Beethovenian strength (a composer that Schumann also considered his ideal), and Chopinesque in brevity, though stronger in content, having a single theme organizational complex that returns in the final movement. The deathly gloom of the four Night Pieces are among the first works where Schumann let the inspired fantasies of E. T. A. Hoffman run free; these pieces are not on the order of the Chopin nocturnes. In fact, the harrowing initial titles for each movement (“Funeral Procession,” “Queer Assembly,” “Nocturnal Revel,” “Roundelay”) were removed at the insistence of Clara, who feared (and with reason) that they would be misunderstood. Le Sage digs into these little demons with a chewy insistence on bringing the most out of them, interpretative assertiveness that is most egregious and necessary.

We don’t hear the Four Marches too often—they seem out of character for the composer, and indeed they are, yet still have much to offer, if only as a contrast. Each is in a tripartite form with a lovely and calming central trio, and he never wrote anything else remotely like them, unless one is willing to consider the exaggerated march rhythms of the Davidsbündler. Florestan and Eusebius make their appearance in the extrovert and introspective three Fantasies , a contrast in extremes, and a set that Clara absolutely loved. Le Sage is again up to the challenge, able with stimulating steadiness to provide the necessary bipolar mania resident in these over-the-top pieces.

Moving on to the 20-years-later mark, we encounter the disparate five movements of Songs of Dawn , the last piano music he would compose, and the last piece of his creative life. These pianistic “songs,” tottering as they do between twilight and the morn, require an exceptional touch and understanding in order properly to bring out the disparity of mood and temperament that characterizes these most Lisztian of pieces. Interpretative leniency is not only suggested but mandatory here, and Le Sage brings the full commitment of his imagination to bear on these wonderful and disturbing works. Aided to no little extent by some warm and natural piano sound, this album becomes fully recommendable for those looking to fill gaps, and highly suggested to those looking for some excellent Schumann to add to their libraries, no matter which recordings already reside there.

FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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Works on This Recording

Novelletten (8) for Piano, Op. 21 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Eric Le Sage (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1838; Germany 
Marches (4) for Piano, Op. 76 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Eric Le Sage (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1849; Germany 
Sonata for Piano no 2 in G minor, Op. 22 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Eric Le Sage (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1833-1838; Germany 
Nachtstücke (4) for Piano, Op. 23 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Eric Le Sage (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839; Germany 
Phantasiestücke (3) for Piano, Op. 111 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Eric Le Sage (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; Germany 
Gesänge der Frühe (5) for Piano, Op. 133 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Eric Le Sage (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1853; Germany 

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