Notes and Editorial Reviews
Seven Piano Pieces in the Form of Fughettas,
Album for the Young:
“Wilder Reiter” (alternative version); Additional Pieces,
WoO 16 and 30;
Album Leaf: Foreboding
Juan Carlos Rodriguez (pn)
NAXOS 8.573094 (69:05)
Naxos has been issuing Schumann piano discs, including this disc of relatively neglected music, by different pianists. Of the music found here, I had heard only the Fugues before this disc arrived: the fugues and the one march, Op. 76/2, that Richter recorded. There is little competition for this recording: Those collectors who have the complete Schumann piano music by Karl Engel are lucky. I have only half the set, and Engel’s recordings, made in the 1980s, are out of print. This new disc by a solid pianist with wide-ranging experience, fills a gap. It begins with the Four Marches, op. 76, which the very unmartial Schumann wrote in 1849, presumably in sympathy with the rebels of those restless years. According to the notes, Schumann himself dodged the draft by hiding in his house. (That they didn’t find him suggests the lack of imagination of imperial forces.) The marches are of course not meant to be marched to: They each have a central trio that breaks the thumping rhythm. Despite Richter’s preference for the second of these marches, I find the third, with its subtitle “Camp Scenes,” the most charming of these pieces. It begins with a wistful theme, and the trio moves in triplets. Schumann must have meant to give us a break from the aggressive rhythms of the other marches.
The fugues, op. 72 and op. 126, are tributes to Bach. The sprightly second fugue from op. 72 in fact sounds like the master. Perhaps for that reason I prefer such pieces as the first from op. 72, with its spare textures and gentle theme. Rodriguez plays this initial fugue gently, and effectively. There is nothing obscure about Schumann’s publication
Album for the Young
, except that it turns out he wrote many more such pieces than he initially published. Here, Rodriguez plays 21 such short pieces, which range in length from 18 seconds to two minutes and 40 seconds. He also plays the well-known “Wilder Reiter” in a version with a different ending than we are used to. The additional pieces begin with a bird call: It is subtitled “Cuckoo in Hiding.” It is followed by a playful uptempo piece in which the hands pursue each other. It’s meant to evoke a game of tag. In the midst of these charming program works are tributes to composers Handel, Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, and Schubert. For the Handel tribute, Schumann has simply arranged the theme known as
The Harmonious Blacksmith,
a piece so well known in the 19th century that Dickens jokingly mentions it in
The disc ends with an
a piece of music whose title
is translated as “foreboding.” This two-and-a-half-minute piece was only rediscovered in 2007. It is a restless piece played placidly by Rodriguez.
Although it contains no towering masterpieces, this disc with its fine renditions of little-known (at least to me) Schumann should appeal to many listeners.
FANFARE: Michael Ullman
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