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Chopin, Schumann: Etudes / Ragna Schirmer

Chopin / Schumann / Schirmer
Release Date: 04/13/2010 
Label:  Berlin Classics   Catalog #: 300015   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Frédéric ChopinRobert Schumann
Performer:  Ragna Schirmer
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 9 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CHOPIN Etudes, op. 10. SCHUMANN Symphonic Etudes Ragna Schirmer (pn) BERLIN 300015 (69: 25)

This is a reissue of recordings made in 2002 and 2005, previously released with different couplings. It’s my first encounter with this young German pianist, whose growing discography ranges from Handel’s keyboard suites to the sonatas of Schnittke.

On this evidence, Ragna Schirmer belongs to Read more the German pianistic tradition of poetic, thoughtful lyricism, with a concern for unforced tonal beauty (exemplified perhaps by Kempff above all). Although she has no shortage of technique, it’s never on display for its own sake, even in this demanding fare. Her conception of Chopin’s op. 10 is quietly individual, shapely, more Mendelssohn than Liszt. She phrases in long lines, with a lightness and sense of proportion that often does not immediately impress as anything special, but has a way of growing on you over the longer haul (see Nos. 3 in E and 6 in E?-Minor, both taken faster and more lightly than usual). Her tonal palette is rich, and voices always sensitively weighted, even in ff. Rapid right-handwork is delectably supple and springy, with an artful awareness of the underlying contrapuntal lines (Nos. 1 in C, 4 in C?-Minor, 8 in F, 12 in C Minor). And she lavishes impressive care over technically less demanding passages, such as the haunting chimes that end No. 9 in F Minor. Sometimes dynamic contrasts can be a little downplayed (No. 11 in E?), and occasionally the lucidity gained by a slower-than-usual tempo comes at the expense of excitement (Nos. 7 in C, 10 in A?). Although this does not displace the finest digital alternatives—including Perahia’s memorable combination of rich, dark weight with a rather Bachian, ascetic streak (Sony); Zayas’s diamond-sharp glitter and rhetorical spontaneity (Music & Arts); best of all, perhaps, Wild’s spacious eloquence, kaleidoscopic coloristic range, and immense articulative variety (Chesky/Ivory Classics)—it can take its place on the shelf beside them. I look forward to her op. 25.

Her Schumann has the advantage of including not just the standard 1852 set and five posthumous variations (which she integrates into the ordered sequence more persuasively than most others), but an additional unpublished variation that was quite new to me. She also plays a rarely heard earlier variant of the first reprise of the main theme in the finale (bars 82 ff.; Pollini plays it too, in his otherwise businesslike, impersonal reading on DG). Again, what impresses is her fresh, natural richness of expression (for something like its polar opposite, hear Pletnev’s incredibly willful, swooning exaggerations, albeit with equally incredible technical command, on DG). She plays the theme with a striking bell-like beauty, and elsewhere demonstrates a satisfying velvety weight (try the organ-like seventh variation, or the “star-cluster” posthumous fifth variation). In the more virtuoso variations, she phrases in long, graceful arcs (variations 2 and 9; posthumous variation 4). Occasionally a little more panache might not go amiss, as in the slightly earthbound finale—compare Schiff here, in a reading of tremendous individuality and electricity as well as poetry (Teldec); or the flexibly grand, sonorous majesty served up by the inimitable Wild (Ivory Classics).

Berlin’s rich, resonant recording serves her well. Minor quibbles aside, here’s a young pianist with plenty of fresh ideas about such familiar warhorses. Well worth your time and money.

FANFARE: Boyd Pomeroy
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Works on This Recording

Etudes (12) for Piano, Op. 10 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Ragna Schirmer (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1829-1833; Poland 
Date of Recording: 08/2002 
Venue:  Freylinhausensaal der Franckeschen Stift 
Length: 26 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Symphonic Etudes for Piano, Op. 13 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Ragna Schirmer (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1837/1852; Germany 
Date of Recording: 08/2005 
Venue:  Freylinhausensaal der Franckeschen Stift 
Length: 1 Minutes 29 Secs. 

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