Notes and Editorial Reviews
Allegro. Faschingsschwank aus Wien. 4 Klavierstücke. Clavier Sonaten für die Jugend
: Nos. 1–3. Études after Paganini Caprices
Eric Le Sage (pn)
ALPHA 154 (2 CDs: 114:09)
The eighth volume of Eric Le Sage’s survey of Schumann’s solo and chamber compositions for piano presents some of Schumann’s most virtuosic and least personal piano music—the Allegro, op. 8, and the two sets of études after Paganini caprices, op. 3 and op. 10—juxtaposed with three
seldom-heard and rather sizeable teaching pieces for children, the late
Clavier Sonaten Für die Jugend
. The four modest
op. 32, fit into no particular category, but sound like studies for more ambitious works like
(whose B?-Major/G-Minor tonal scheme and some of its repeated rhythmic figures it shares) and also
Faschingsschwank aus Wien
, op. 26, whose finale’s lyrical material is hinted at in the third movement (Romanze) of op. 32. Only the enjoyable
(usually translated awkwardly as “Carnival Jest from Vienna”), one of Schumann’s least troubled-sounding piano suites, is encountered fairly often. Sviatoslav Richter’s spirited performances of this work have always seemed to me to be the best imaginable with their added
of being recorded live in concert. Le Sage’s studio version offers comparable sweep and swagger in the first and fifth movements along with refinement and delicacy when needed.
The B-Minor Allegro was intended to be part of a projected sonata that went no further. Influenced by Hummel’s Sonata in F?, op. 81, Schumann experiments with busy keyboard textures to create a dramatic, turbulent atmosphere. Compared to the Toccata, op. 7, a technical tour de force imbued with melody and a personal flavor, the Allegro, while not uninteresting, seems uninspired.
Sonatas for the Young,
op. 118, represent three successive levels of technical difficulty. This is because Schumann wrote them as instructional pieces for his three daughters at specific ages and increasing levels of ability. This music has a certain wistful restraint and some lovely turns of phrase, but the sonatas’ melodic ideas are often repeated just a few too many times. Le Sage’s readings have affection and artful simplicity, but like the
Album for the Young
, the three sonatas were meant for piano students to play, not for professional performance.
From the first ascending arpeggio and descending A-Minor scale, Le Sage brings such pianistic aplomb to Schumann’s piano adaptations of 12 of Paganini’s solo violin caprices that listening straight through the second not very well-filled disc (42 minutes) is an entirely enjoyable experience. Pianists don’t bother much with Schumann’s Paganini etudes, which were composed almost 10 years before Liszt’s more famous and less straightforward adaptations, but they should. There is great variety here, and much musical charm amid ingenious technical challenges.
I suspect that I might even enjoy listening to Eric Le Sage practicing Czerny études or scales and arpeggios for 42 minutes. He is a superbly polished, musically flexible player who brings persuasive phrasing, varieties of color, and real joie de vivre to all of the music on these discs. With his seemingly complete identification with this composer’s music, Le Sage is a Schumann sage. Volume 8 is something of a catch-all collection that doesn’t include any of Schumann’s true masterpieces, but I am thankful that so complete a pianist as Le Sage has shone a brilliant light into some of the more obscure corners of Schumann’s astoundingly rich keyboard oeuvre.
The sound of the recording is clear and vibrant. The booklet’s essay on the Biedermeier painter Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, whose dandyish 1828 self-portrait adorns the cover but whose work has no particular connection to Schumann, is an extravagant but dispensable bonus.
FANFARE: Paul Orgel
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