Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Solo Piano Works
Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 (1834-37, rev. 1852) [39:06]
Fantasy in C major, Op. 17 (1836-38) [33:07]
Bernd Glemser, piano
Recorded Lugano, Switzerland, November 2002
Released February 2005
Naxos 8.557673 [72:13]
Sym. Etudes - Okashiro/Pro Piano, Brand/APR, Richter/BBC, Schliessmann/Bayer
Fantasy in C - Arrau/Philips, A. Fischer/BBC, Richter/EMI, Horowitz/Sony
Program: Two of Schumann's supreme piano works from the 1830's, his most
inspired musical decade. After Schumann made his final revisions to the
Symphonic Etudes, the work consisted of a theme with 12 variations/etudes.
However, there were many interim revisions, leaving quite a few fallen
etudes in their wake. After Schumann's death, Brahms took five of them
and made an appendix to the work. How these five variations are treated
by pianists is quite interesting and significant. Some do not play them
at all, others simply restrict them to the appendix as dictated by Brahms,
a few insert them together into the body of the work, and the remainder
place each of the five at strategic points in the work.
It is important to point out that the final revision by Schumann, without
the five additional etudes, tends to favor Schumann's alter-ego Florestan
(man of action). Conversely, the etudes added by Brahms veer toward the
alter-ego Eusebius (man of enlightenment). Through their strategic
placement in the body of the work, a balance of alter-egos can be achieved.
Personally, I see no sense in treating them as an appendix or inserting
them together earlier in the work. Leaving them by the wayside seems
rather foolish, given that they constitute some of Schumann's most
inspirational music. Bernd Glemser takes the most desired route of
In contrast to the Symphonic Etudes, the Fantasy in C major has three
substantial movements closely tied to Schumann's love for Clara Wieck
and the desperate state of his emotions when her father would not allow
him to see her. The 1st Movement revolves around Schumann's passion for
Clara, the 2nd Movement is in the form of an intense march, and the 3rd
Movement expresses his undying love for his soul mate.
Glemser's Performances: Glemser does a fine job with Schumann's
impetuosity and alter-egos. The problem is that many others have done
better, and we have a host of recordings of both works that clearly show
that Glemser is not among the best Schumann interpreters. Glemser does
not approach the architectural command of Arrau or Richter, the intensity
of Brand or Horowitz, the passion of Annie Fischer, the beauty of Okashiro,
or the blending of alter-egos from Schliessmann.
Glemser is least rewarding in the Fantasy. The passion of the 1st
Movement is largely missing, and the 2nd Movement's march has a lethargic
quality. However, he is excellent when conveying Schumann's great love
for Clara in the gorgeous final movement.
Glemser's Sound Quality: Not very good. In the strongest passages, the
sound has a rather harsh and unyielding quality; increasing the volume
only exacerbates the problem. Suffice it to say that the recording
doesn't possess much of a bloom to it.
Don's Conclusions: At super-budget price, I can give the new Glemser
disc a mild recommendation. But there are quite a few transcendent
performances on record that easily eclipse Glemser's, and those noted
above in the heading should be investigated first. For a modern-era
recording of the Symphonic Etudes, I especially recommend Chitose Okashiro
whose disc also contains music of Scarlatti, Mozart, Chopin, Scriabin,
and Brahms. Her soundstage is magnificent, and the performances are
gorgeous and idiomatic. For the Fantasy, Annie Fischer's glowing warmth
and passion can't be beat. These Schumann works deserve the best, and
Bernd Glemser unfortunately does not reach the heights except perhaps
for the 3rd Movement of the Fantasy. Essentially, this recording adds
little to the Schumann discography, and other reviews I have read seem
to be of like opinion.
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