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Schumann: Scenen / Matthias Kirschnereit

Schumann / Kirschnereit
Release Date: 06/08/2010 
Label:  Berlin Classics   Catalog #: 16682   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Robert Schumann
Performer:  Matthias Kirschnereit
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUMANN Papillons, op. 2. Scenes from Childhood, op. 15. Ahnung. Forest Scenes, op. 82. Variations in E?, “Geister” Matthias Kirschnereit (pn) BERLIN 16682 (72:18)

This album is titled Scenes , meant to represent Schumann’s predilection for Read more creating miniatures of an almost independent nature, though having more of a connectedness in most cases than the equivalent of, say, Chopin, the true miniaturist. Matthias Kirschnereit is another pianist new to me, though one certainly worth seeking out (his many recordings on Arte Nova, including the complete Mozart concertos, have been well received in these pages). His tone, articulation, and phrasing are well-nigh perfect for this music, and his ability to carefully bring out the hidden and important voicing in Schumann’s music, revealing harmonies that oft-times go blurred or unnoticed, is truly worthy of mention.

Papillons is a work that can cause much difficulty for performer and listener when approached too cavalierly or with the simple idea that this is just dance music, so up the tempo and let her rip. Probably of all Schumann’s piano music, this is the piece that I have the most difficulty with as the individual movements feel so disconnected at times, and most performances fail to thread any kind of filament through the work. So it gives me no end of pleasure to report that I think this rendition by Kirschnereit is the flat-out finest I have ever heard. He avoids the mistake of taking fast passages too fast and slow passages too lugubriously. In fact he seems to delight in every aspect of this score, from the important and vital imaging of the bass line (which lays the foundation for these dances) to the caressing of melodies that can flounder into banality in other hands. Kirschnereit sees this work for what it is, the first in a long line of character assignations that Schumann felt he needed in order to concretely express himself while remaining hidden because of his own temperamental idiosyncrasies. Marvelous music-making.

Scenes from Childhood is certainly not for children, though Robert wrote to Clara that she would need to “forget you are a virtuoso” when attempting it. In fact it was written the same year as Kreisleriana , and though the outwardly tempestuous momentum that fuels that signal piece only reticently makes its appearance here, it is no less expressive for all that. Schumann’s daughter is emphatic in insisting that the titles for the individual movements were added well after the fact, and that though they might help some listener’s comprehension they are not necessary. I’ll wager that most performers come at this music with exactly those titles in mind these days. No matter—though I still think that Horowitz gave us the most perfect example of how this music should go, Kirschnereit plays it magnificently, with a devotional fervor that comes across in every bar. Of course when Schumann was speaking of this music to Clara he mentioned that these 12 pieces were selected from over 30, and musicologists ever since have been trying to discover what happened with the other 18. Well, in 2006 one of the pieces was actually rediscovered, 24 bars unearthed by librarian Roswitha Lambertz at the Leopold-Sophien in Überlingen, while she was cataloging the papers of Leo Allgeyer, whose brother Julius received the honor of dedication from Clara one year after Schumann’s death. While I am not ready to say that Schumann chose wrongly in his final selection, this is a first recording of a fascinating little two-minute work.

As readers might have noted, I am particularly concerned with the Forest Scenes , considering it perhaps the most poetic piano music Schumann ever penned. Many seasoned virtuosos miss this element because they approach it with the idea that it is a secondary work that in effect looks backwards to a simpler style like the Scenes from Childhood —nothing could be further from the truth, and there are elements here of harmony and descriptive finesse that show Schumann as forward-looking as ever. Our pianist here turns in a reading that is easily the equal of the finest ever done, keeping the momentum going among movements yet not hesitating to stop and linger when an especially touching Schumannesque moment strikes.

Adding the “Geister” (Ghost) variations at the end of this disc is a striking gesture of inspiration. This was the composer’s last completed work, finished in the asylum after his attempted suicide in 1854. Brahms edited just the theme and published it in 1893, the variations—again dedicated to Clara—considered too personal for publication. Brahms had used the theme for his Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann for piano four hands, but this entire work did not appear until 1939 and only as the urtext in 1995! Posterity’s loss for sure, but now we can enjoy some of the most intimate and almost embarrassingly personal music he wrote. The music is meditative and fond, like those softly spoken words that transpire between a mother and child, or a conversation among family members. At times it moves into absolute stasis, standing still and reflecting in the most economic of means. This is not an encore piece, but as a summation of a lifetime’s worth of overtly expressed feelings it has yet to be matched.

This is definitely a candidate for this year’s Want List. Usually we critics are encouraged to offer advice in the form of comparisons, but I am not going to do that here. This is a recital so extraordinarily played that comparisons become superfluous—no matter how many other good versions you might own, you simply have to sample artistry as exalted as this, duplications be damned. It’s 72 minutes of pure bliss.

FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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Works on This Recording

Papillons, Op. 2 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Matthias Kirschnereit (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1829-1831; Germany 
Kinderszenen, Op. 15 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Matthias Kirschnereit (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1838; Germany 
Waldszenen, Op. 82 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Matthias Kirschnereit (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1848-1849; Germany 
Variations for Piano on an original theme "Geisterthema" by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Matthias Kirschnereit (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854; Germany 

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