CHOPIN Ballades: No. 3 in A?; No. 4 in f. Prelude in c?, op. 45. Fantasy. Berceuse. Barcarolle. Polonaise-Fantaisie. Waltz in c?, op. 64/2. BACH Partita No. 2. SCHUMANN Kreisleriana • Burkard Schliessmann (pn) • MSR MS 1361 (2 SACDs: 123:54)
As is evident if you’ve heard his earlierRead more recordings—or if you’ve read his interviews with James Reel (Fanfare 31:3) or with me (27:4 and 33:5, the latter reprinted in the booklet to this new release)—Burkard Schliessmann is a fiercely intellectual pianist. He’s intellectual in two senses. First, he approaches this music with a tremendous store of background knowledge—knowledge about the composers and their works, about their early receptions, about their critical writings, about their literary inspirations, and about the cultural milieu in which they found themselves. Second, he performs the music with a rigorous sense of the ways its details contribute to its form, both in terms of its overall architecture and in terms of its vertical structure. Not that he sounds anything like Pollini, much less Rosen (to mention just two other pianists often tagged as intellectuals); his playing is far lusher and less severe than Pollini’s (listen to the gorgeous shifts in color in the Barcarolle), far more flexible than Rosen’s. Still, if you’re looking for playing with splashy virtuosity, heightened emotionality, and an extroverted interpretive style, you won’t find it here.
Thus, for instance, his fairly dark Kreisleriana is exploratory rather than explosive. The performance is notable for its keen appreciation of Schumann’s off-kilter rhythms, its sensitivity to his more adventurous pre-expressionistic harmonies, and, most of all, its poignance (try the opening of the second movement). But while it’s not quite a somber reading, it’s surely a sober one—tempos are on the deliberate side; the music’s wit is tempered (even more, I think, than in his earlier recording on Bayer, 27:4); colors tend to be rich; the music’s agitation is muted; and despite the thrust of the seventh movement, its drama is often held in check. Much the same can be said about his lustrous Chopin which, despite the sheer weight of the climaxes (the Polonaise-Fantaisie is especially crushing), is most memorable for its introspection: the conversational intimacy of much of the Fantasy, the careful exploration of the Third Ballade’s inner lines, the hypnotic pull of the Berceuse. In sum, these performances—issued to celebrate the Chopin and Schumann anniversaries—do not set out to wow you or to inflame your emotions. As a consequence, they will probably not serve as a good introduction for people who are just starting to know this music. But anyone who loves this music well will find Schliessmann’s subtle readings a welcome addition to their collections.
The Bach is included as an homage to a composer whom Chopin and Schumann both admired. Reel praised the “almost bouncy non-legato touch” of Schliessmann’s Goldberg Variations (31:3), and the same quality can be found here, in a performance with a much sharper profile than we get in his readings of its 19th-century discmates. The rhythmic spring of the secondary lines (if any lines in Bach can be called secondary) is especially fetching. As Reel says, Schliessmann is not an especially “pianistic” Bachian—but, without exaggerating, he does take advantage of the instrument’s range of articulation and its ability to provide finely graded dynamics. And while he’s not an especially romantic Bachian, either, he’s certainly willing to interject a fair amount of rhythmic teasing.
The recordings were made with two different Steinways in two different halls, chosen according to the repertoire; in all cases, the engineering is superlative, especially in 5.1 surround, capturing the full sonority of the instrument and offering a compelling sense of space. Any regrets? Well, Schliessmann has recorded very little—only five previous releases show up on ArkivMusic. So it’s unfortunate that most of this release (everything but the Bach, the Prelude, and the Berceuse) is devoted to repertoire he has already given us. And while Schliessmann fans will no doubt appreciate the ways in which he has refined his interpretations, most listeners will no doubt wish he had given us something really new. None the less, an imposing release.
Stunning performancesOctober 7, 2016By James Harrington (ARG) See All My Reviews"Called 2010 Chopin-Schumann Anniversary Edition this beautifully recorded SACD set is the second release by Schliessmann I have had the fortune to review. His Goldberg Variations (Bayer 100326, Mar/Apr 2008) was one of my Critics Choices for the year. Given my often reinforced memory of his superb Bach pianism, this immediately caught my attention, and I listened to this first among this issues review items. It is his first release on an American label, and it is beautifully packaged, with exemplary notes by Schliessmann (in German). There is an essay-interview with Schliessmann on this music in English by Peter Rabinowitz. I would have preferred a good English translation of Schliessmanns actual complete essay, since it elaborates on the pianists feelings for each of the selections. Rarely does any pianist communicate the essence of Chopin with such an individual conviction as I hear in these stunning performances. These late works are probably some of the greatest ever composed for the piano. To perform them well requires both exceptional pianistic skills and a remarkable intellect. Schliessmann arrives at his own unique interpretations, with reverence for the past (Cortot, Michelangeli, Rubinstein, and Horszowski especially). While each phrase is impeccably shaped, there is an overall thrust to each work that holds everything together. He uses rubato sparingly, and while he embraces the virtuosity in the music, it never overrides other musical content. After a half century of listening to a number of these works, I must say that Schliessmann shed new light on most of them. His is rarefied Chopin and needs to be heard by all music lovers. The second disc combines a Bach Partita 2 that is on the same level as his Goldberg Variations with a thrilling performance of Schumanns Kreisleriana. Only Horowitz seems as able to capture the impulsive, rather chaotic character of this work. Where Schliessmann gave Chopin a firm classical grounding, he shifts gears easily to convey the quirky, confused nature of late Schumann, which is truly another world of romantic piano music. The Bach, after a dramatic French Overture opening, proceeds through the stylized dances with flair, personality and sentiment. The clarity of articulation, phrasing choices, and subtle dynamic shadings make a compelling argument that Bach can be played on the piano. The baroque master himself would undoubtedly fully embrace Schliessmanns performance. I feel that way about the whole release."Report Abuse