Notes and Editorial Reviews
Ballades: No. 3 in A?; No. 4 in f. Prelude in c?,
Fantasy. Berceuse. Barcarolle. Polonaise-Fantaisie. Waltz in c?,
Partita No. 2.
Burkard Schliessmann (pn)
MSR MS 1361 (2 SACDs: 123:54)
As is evident if you’ve heard his earlier
recordings—or if you’ve read his interviews with James Reel (
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
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
(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.
FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
Works on This Recording
Kreisleriana, Op. 16 by Robert Schumann
Burkard Schliessmann (Piano)
Written: 1838; Germany
Venue: Funkhaus Berlin
Length: 33 Minutes 30 Secs.
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