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Schumann: Symphonic Etudes, Forest Scenes, Arabesque / Helmchen

Martin Helmchen
Release Date: 11/13/2012 
Label:  Pentatone   Catalog #: 5186452   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Robert Schumann
Performer:  Martin Helmchen
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  
SuperAudio CD:  $19.99
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUMANN Waldszenen, Op. 82; Symphonische Etüden, Op. 13; Arabeske, Op. 18 Martin Helmchen (pn) PENTATONE 5186 452 (SACD: 60:52)

Martin Helmchen is a name which is probably new to no one: He has won numerous awards (including first prize in the Clara Haskil Competition in 2001), has worked with numerous illustrious orchestras, among them the Deutsche Read more Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin, the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, and various chamber orchestras around Europe, with such master conductors as Marek Janowski, Philippe Herreweghe, Valery Gergiev, and Bernhard Klee. He has partnered in chamber music recitals with Boris Pergamenschikow, Heinrich Schiff, Gidon Kremer, Christian Tetzlaff, Daniel Hope, and Lars Vogt, among many others. He is, in other words, a fabulous instrumentalist. And that is clear from the current recital.

The opening Waldszenen is for me the highlight of the disc. Here Helmchen is calm and reserved for the most part: The Eintritt here acts as not just an entranceway into the piece, but into the program as a whole. Oddly, when comparing it to Volodos’s version on his live recital from Vienna, Volodos seems to shade more sweetly than does Helmchen, but Helmchen does not see the piece in the same way: Here he captures an amazing simplicity akin to the C-Major Prelude in Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book I. His continuity of sound is entrancing. Verrufene Stelle evokes perfectly the odd, almost twisted quality of those ill-reputed places which Schumann musically describes so perfectly. Of course the highlight for most people is the strange and enigmatic Vogel als Prophet . While there is hardly a pianist out there capable of attaining the magical atmosphere of this piece as well as Alfred Cortot did, Helmchen does as admirable a job as many. The chorale-like middle section sounds as odd in this performance as it should, stopping the piece in midtrack, appearing and then disappearing just as quickly. The Symphonische Etüden, performed here with the five Anhang variations interspersed throughout the cycle, works well: The extra variations seem as though they truly belong to the cycle. It is far more satisfying to hear them this way than performed together at the conclusion of the opus proper. Here Helmchen alters his sound to fit his conception of the work. This is no longer light-hearted fare. This is as heavy and brooding as Schumann gets. And perhaps Helmchen here plays the work a bit too poised, too “normal” for my tastes. I tend to like my Schumann ever more schizophrenic in its rhythmic intricacies and eccentric in its numerous sforzandi . Helmchen plays the work a bit lighter than I would like, making it sound almost like Mendelssohn, yet there are moments when this works beautifully: Etude III and even Variation V sound as though they are lost parts of Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses here. The C-Major Arabeske brings us back to the light-hearted world of the opening, acting as both conclusion and encore. The pianist plays it simply: smooth, flowing, and tender. With bonus SACD quality sound, PentaTone has done it again. This one’s a keeper.

FANFARE: Scott Noriega
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Works on This Recording

Waldszenen, Op. 82 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Martin Helmchen (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1848-1849; Germany 
Symphonic Etudes for Piano, Op. 13 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Martin Helmchen (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1837/1852; Germany 
Arabeske for Piano in C major, Op. 18 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Martin Helmchen (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1838; Germany 

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