Notes and Editorial Reviews
Album for the Young. Pieces for Piano 4 Hands.
Eric Le Sage (pn); Frank Braley (pn);
Denis Pascal (pn)
ALPHA 145 (2 CDs: 132:51)
This is Vol. 7 of Eric Le Sage’s admirable traversal of Schumann piano and chamber music,
subtitled “For the Young.” There have not been too many recordings of the complete
Album for the Young
, possibly four or five currently available. I have been satisfied with Angela Brownridge’s recording on Hyperion’s Helios label, finding her well suited to the temperament of the music and doing all she can to add life to the little pieces, divided in half to show a progression from very young students to more advanced. On the eve of his daughter Marie’s birthday in 1848, he made sketches of eight of these miniatures that, before the end of the same month, had been expanded into a full 43. The book was published by Christmas of that year and has ever since remained perhaps the most important work by a major composer with educational intentions in mind. All sorts of forms and difficulties are covered, and a few of them, like “The Happy Farmer” and “The Wild Horseman,” have become true classics.
Le Sage gives the pieces every musical due, and this certainly has to be the best sound they were ever captured in. Much as I have liked Brownridge, I think I shall have to insist that she hit the road—I really don’t need more than one copy of this, since I spend more time playing them than listening—and Le Sage boldly and without hesitation occupies new pride of place in my collection.
The couplings on this two-disc set only add to the attraction. The
Pieces for Piano Four Hands
(1849) were published in 1850, and this two-piano work was still in accordance with the composer’s desire to leave some quality educational material behind. They do not have the individual character-colorations as the
Album for the Young
, and are definitely not as brilliantly imaginative as the
(a work not for children, but more about them), yet there is much to admire as Schumann at this point was more than capable of creating a work of symphonic proportions for the two pianos, eminently playable by qualified students. Le Sage and partner Frank Braley convincingly portray the composer’s intentions in this charming work, not first drawer, but harder deserving of trash bin status either.
opened the composer’s career, focusing on ballroom dances, so the
nearly closed it. These were created while he was in Düsseldorf, acting in his first position as music director. These late works, indicative to many that Schumann was losing his touch—and indeed the composer himself questioned his ability at this time—are nevertheless charming creations of skill and craftsmanship, even if they do lack the supreme sense of Romantic angst and invention present in his other piano pieces. I doubt I would want more than one recording of them, but this cleverly constructed album concept puts together all of these works in one place that is not only convenient but makes for a very pleasant single listening session. Le Sage and company have done us a great favor with this one.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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