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Schumann: Piano Works / Daniel Gortler

Gortler / Schumann
Release Date: 01/25/2011 
Label:  Romeo Entertainment   Catalog #: 7281   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Robert Schumann
Performer:  Daniel Gortler
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 50 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUMANN Arabeske. Symphonic Etudes. Blumenstück. Phantasiebilder, op. 26. Fantasy, op. 17 Daniel Gortler (pn) ROMÉO 7281/2 (2 CDs: 110:04)

When recordings of unfamiliar artists come to me for review, I make two piles: those that look intriguing enough that I think I might not only like it but keep the recording, and those that look like “just Read more another performance” by a young and (to my mind) inexperienced performer who probably won’t last more than one audition.

This CD went into the second pile, not only because of the artist’s extremely youthful look but because these works have been recorded multiple times by many great and seasoned artists. Just the Arabeske, for instance, is available in performances by Arrau, Ashkenazy, Egorov, Frank, Freire, Gilels, Horowitz, Horszowski, Kempff, Kissin, Laredo, Nat, Rubinstein, Schiff, and Thibaudet. For the Symphonic Etudes, you have many of the same artists, plus Casadesus, Cherkassky, Firku?ný, and—believe it or not—Percy Grainger from 1928. The most critically acclaimed recording of the etudes is the one by Marc-André Hamelin (with the Fantasy) on Hyperion 67166. Possibly the most famous and artistic of previous recordings featuring the five posthumous variations (as does this one) is the one by Maurizio Pollini on DG 410916, but there are also versions by Perahia (CBS 34539) and François-René Duchable (Erato/Conifer 75046, which I’ve not heard). I’m told that Earl Wild also plays the extra variations on Ivory Classics 71001, but I haven’t heard that disc, either.

As you can see, then, young Daniel Gortler is up against some pretty stiff competition, and I’m not willing to say that his performances outstrip the others. But that’s not the point. The point is that Gortler is an extraordinarily mature interpreter for his age, that he gets to the heart of the music by combining an alert, musically precise reading with a remarkable feeling for rubato, and that he has quite obviously lived with and worked over these pieces to the point where he definitely has something to say about them. In his notes, he defines his approach as “an expression of the German Romantic that attains balance between form and structure, and imagination and emotion. Performing these works with additional sentimentality would undo that balance and create a risk of overemotional expression.” Of the performances I’ve heard, I would say that his approach could be closest compared to that of Pollini, although Gilels and Firku?ný are not far behind.

Regarding the famous (or infamous) extra variations in the Symphonic Etudes, pedants and pedantic critics have dismissed them as superfluous at best or disruptive to the musical flow at worst. I find myself agreeing with Gortler’s inclusion and positioning of these five variations within the body of the composition. To my ears, they are every bit as imaginative and interesting as the published variants, and Gortler’s performance is entirely convincing. For your information, he places posthumous variation 3 between published variation 2 and the etude 3, posthumous 4 between variations 5 and 6, posthumous 5 and 1 between variation 7 and etude 9, and posthumous 2 between etude 9 and variation 8. I find that this works, better, in fact, than some of the posthumously discovered songs of Dichterliebe that Thomas Hampson insists on singing each and every time he performs the cycle.

Gortler’s interpretive view lies somewhat between the crisp, wide-awake version of Hamelin and the poetic, dreamy (and, for me, wrong) interpretation of Perahia. It’s an interesting balance of yin and yang, and it pays dividends. If anything, I enjoy the second CD even better than the first, possibly because I feel that the Phantasiebilder and the Fantasy in C Major are among Schumann’s greatest compositions. Here, Gortler holds nothing back in terms of emotional commitment, and these performances bring out the strong influence of Beethoven, particularly in the latter piece, which was Schumann’s “monument to Beethoven.” The sound quality of both discs is crisp and bright with tremendous presence. You almost feel as if Gortler’s piano is in the room with you. I foresee a long and fruitful artistic development for this young man, and can only hope that, in our destroyed economy, he can find enough work to sustain his artistic vision.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Arabeske for Piano in C major, Op. 18 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Daniel Gortler (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1838; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2010 
Venue:  Jerusalem Music Center, Israel 
Length: 6 Minutes 53 Secs. 
Symphonic Etudes for Piano, Op. 13 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Daniel Gortler (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1837/1852; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2010 
Venue:  Jerusalem Music Center, Israel 
Length: 15 Minutes 17 Secs. 
Blumenstück for Piano in D flat major, Op. 19 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Daniel Gortler (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2010 
Venue:  Jerusalem Music Center, Israel 
Length: 8 Minutes 26 Secs. 
Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Daniel Gortler (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839-1840; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2010 
Venue:  Jerusalem Music Center, Israel 
Length: 21 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Phantasie for Piano in C major, Op. 17 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Daniel Gortler (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1836-1838; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2010 
Venue:  Jerusalem Music Center, Israel 
Length: 34 Minutes 38 Secs. 

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