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Schumann: Piano Music / Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy

Release Date: 11/11/2008 
Label:  Brilliant Classics   Catalog #: 93772   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Robert Schumann
Performer:  Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUMANN Carnaval . Toccata in C. Nachtstücke . Klavierstücke, op. 32. Presto passionato. Theme and Variations on the Name ABEGG. Intermezzi. Symphonic Etudes Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (pn) BRILLIANT 93772 (2 CDs: 139:48)

It’s strange that the second disc in this collection Read more ( Abegg , Intermezzi, Symphonic Etudes ), recorded at the same place as the first and with the same producer and engineer, and two years earlier, would have so much more presence and comportment than the later disc. In fact, after hearing the rather blurry and distanced reading of Carnaval , I greatly feared what was waiting for me by the time I completed the set. But yet, repeated hearings have me wondering if instead of the sound it is actually the pianist that is making the difference. To be honest, I am not convinced either way as of yet; but I can report that Mr. Schmitt-Leonardy has something to say in this music, at least some of it, while perhaps not ranking as a first choice.

Yet Carnaval remains an issue—the inner parts of this deliriously rich score feel muddled and somewhat incoherent—not enough to ruin the whole experience, but enough to make me question Schmitt-Leonardy’s conception of the score. The rangy mechanics of the Toccata fare much better, as do the Piano Pieces, op. 32; the pianist seems more on form here, dexterously navigating the difficulties that relate more to the formal structure of the work, and not having to manage the more atmospheric issues associated with the Night Pieces , also somewhat problematic. Again, the sound just doesn’t carry the way it should in an otherwise crystal-clear digital recording.

Disc 2 presents what sounds like a different pianist in many ways. The early Abegg Variations sparkle with a subdued glow that makes sense of the various swirls of musical components marking a composer trying to find his way. Personal to the end, Schumann could not resist making a melody out of the last name of his Heidelberg University friend’s fiancée Fraulein Meta Abegg. And the six Intermezzi, more popular in Brahms’s canon than in Schumann’s, come together with a coherence that many performances fail to achieve, a mixture of technical proficiency than can easily navigate the contrapuntal issues and emotive reflection that balances the fantastic origins of the work, derived for the most part from song texts, and initially labeled by the composer as the Pièces phantastiques.

Best of all just might be the Symphonic Variations. It does not top my favorites, especially Eric Le Sage’s clarion reading on Alpha ( Fanfare 32:2), but they have a formal integrity and sense of connectedness often missing in the hands of lesser artists. As mentioned, the sound on this second disc seems better to me, but it might be because the artist has a better grasp of the phrasing and pedaling in these pieces than on the first disc. At any rate, with Brilliant’s pricing, one can easily afford to run a little risk and take a few chances on these readings. For first timers, I would recommend some of the greats in this music, including Le Sage, Hamelin, Richter, Lupu, and Aimard, not to mention Horowitz and Rubinstein. Yet, for a substantial and cheap introduction, this one is hard to beat, and may lead you to seek out the finest available of these many and disparately organized pieces, frustratingly difficult to gather in one place.

FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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Works on This Recording

Carnaval, Op. 9 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1833-1835; Germany 
Nachtstücke (4) for Piano, Op. 23 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839; Germany 
Toccata for Piano in C major, Op. 7 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1829-1832; Germany 
Klavierstücke (4), Op. 32 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1838-1839; Germany 
Theme and Variations for Piano on the name ABEGG, Op. 1 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1829-1830; Germany 
Intermezzi (6) for Piano, Op. 4 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1832; Germany 
Sonata for Piano no 2 in G minor, Op. 22: Presto passionato by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1833; Germany 
Symphonic Etudes for Piano, Op. 13 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1837/1852; Germany 
Notes: Composition written: Germany (1837).
Composition revised: Germany (1852). 

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