Schumann: Piano Music
Number of Discs:
1 Hours 8 Mins.
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Notes and Editorial Reviews
3 Fantasy Pieces,
Waldszenen. Gesänge der Frühe,
Michel Laurent (pn)
PAVANE 7535 (67:54)
My French being what it is, for the briefest moment I confused the Michel Laurent on this release with the well-known pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard. So I was surprised when I checked both the CD listings and the
Archive for Michel Laurent and found only this recording in the former and nothing in the latter. His personal webpage is entirely in French, which is unhelpful to a French-illiterate like me, and his bio’s approximate translation into English in the booklet note is not very informative. We don’t learn much more than that he’s a Belgian-born and -trained artist who distinguished himself at the conservatories of Brussels and Mons. A booklet photo of Laurent, however, establishes that he’s not another wunderkind to burst onto the scene. Looks can be deceiving, but I’d guess Laurent to be a man at least in his late-30s to early-40s, and this, according to his own website, is only his second recording; the first contains works by Beethoven, Brahms, and excerpts from Schumann’s
None of this sounded too promising until I put the disc on and listened to it, which, to paraphrase the cliché, proves once again that one shouldn’t judge the CD by its booklet. On evidence of these performances, I’d have to say that Laurent is a Schumann lover’s dream come true. As big a fan as I am of Angela Hewitt, I wasn’t completely won over by her
in a recent review (
34:5) of her second Schumann album, noting what I felt was a slight lack of poetic spontaneity that informs these reminiscences of childhood. I have no such reservations about Laurent. Schumann’s miniatures are not so much expressions of childhood innocence as they are distillations of adult reflections on that innocence. As such, they are necessarily colored by experiences, nostalgia, and regret that children do not yet know. The music is more sophisticated than it sounds, and it takes a delicate balance to bring off. Laurent shapes and shades each of the pieces with subtle rubato and dynamic inflections that transform each of them into a magical reverie.
Ten years later, Schumann wrote
, nine evocations of the natural world. Like
, though, this is not the music of a wide-eyed innocent intoxicated by birdsong, fragrant flowers, and forest murmurs. There’s a split personality, as there is in much of Schumann’s music, juxtaposing the romantic exaltation of nature against darker images and feelings. I once wondered aloud if one had to be as batty as Schumann to play his music really well. I didn’t know the answer, but I averred that it couldn’t hurt. Laurent is especially adept at capturing the Florestan and Eusebius characters of the composer’s multiple personalities.
Much critical opinion holds that from about 1850 onward Schumann’s creative powers were in decline, possibly a sign of his increasing mental instability. The
of 1851 comes early in that last phase of his life. In his program note, Laurent suggests, without actually using the word, that the three pieces form an integrated sonata-like structure, the first being in C Minor, the second in A?-Major, and the third once again in C Minor. Moreover, the second piece is a self-contained A-B-A structure. I’m just a lover of Schumann’s music, not a critical analyst of it, but if there’s any falling off of the composer’s inspiration in these three pieces, to my ear it’s not yet evident. And given Laurent’s technically impressive and emotionally expressive playing of the pieces, I’m quite sure he finds them as compelling as I do.
To quote the
All Music Guide
, “By the autumn of 1853, Robert Schumann had already boarded the one-way express train to complete mental and emotional breakdown; but he had not yet actually reached the last stop on that unhappy trip, and so was still able, in October, to create and prepare for publication (the latter over several months, and with considerable difficulty—his mental focus was dissolving quickly) a set of five character pieces for piano solo that he called
Gesänge der Frühe
(Songs of Dawn), op. 133. These five miniatures are dedicated to ‘the high poetess Bettina’ and are Schumann’s very last coherent solo piano music.”
These five pieces round out Laurent’s thoughtfully programmed and exceptionally beautifully played Schumann recital, taking us chronologically from some of the composer’s early piano music and recollections of childhood to his last lucid piano music and retreat into an impenetrable world of mental illness and eventual death.
This is a Schumann disc no Schumann lover should be without. I hope Michel Laurent will soon favor us with more Schumann, as well with music of other composers fortunate enough to be served by his exquisite artistry. Very strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Kinderszenen, Op. 15 by Robert Schumann
Michel Laurent (Piano)
Written: 1838; Germany
Length: 16 Minutes 57 Secs.
Waldszenen, Op. 82 by Robert Schumann
Michel Laurent (Piano)
Written: 1848-1849; Germany
Length: 20 Minutes 53 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Beautiful Schumann July 6, 2012
By Gail M. (Goleta, CA) See All My Reviews
"I had not heard of Michel Laurent, nor was I familiar with the Pavane label, before buying this disk. What a pleasant surprise! These are the most poetic and beatuiful playings of the nostalgic early pieces of Kinderszenen and Waldszenen I've ever heard. And the 5 sophisticated late pieces of Op.133, Gesaenge der Fruehe, are great too. The piano sound is perfect for this music; recording is excellent. This is the Schumann disk to buy."