Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Piano Music of Robert Schumann: Klavierwerke: Sonata #2 for Piano, Night Visions, Three Romances and Forest Scenes

Today, at long last, I'll finally cover the fourth and final disc of my four-CD recording of Schumann's piano works performed by Wilhelm Kempff. Here are discs 1, 2 and 3 if you missed them.

I've really missed Schumie and his incomparable solo piano compositions. And what's amazing to me about these works is how complex they are. It's actually easier for me to follow a symphony--with all its dozens of different instruments--than it is for me to follow a single pianist performing one of Schumann's works.

Despite repeated listens to each of the CDs in this four disc collection, I feel like I've only scratched at the surface of this music.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Performed by Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991)
Schumann: Piano Works
Deutsche Grammophone, 1975

Before we get into the listener notes, let me say without reservation that I highly, highly recommend this exceptional recording to anyone interested in classical piano music.

Listener notes for Schumann's Sonata for Piano #2 in G minor:
1) Once again, it's amazing how many voices can sing out from just ten fingers and one piano. Fortunately, this extremely complex music doesn't have the uniform, machine-made sound of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier.

Listener notes for Nachtstucke (Night Visions):
2) I can't help but imagine ghouls or zombies traipsing to and fro when I listen to the first movement of Night Visions (Track 5, Disc 4).

3) In the second movement (Track 6), I can see happy little sprites traipsing all over the place. And then in the third movement (Track 7), it sounds like the ghouls, spirits and sprites are all holding hands and doing some sort of frolicsome dance together in a field in some kind of a creepy dreamworld. Or something.

4) The fourth movement is so sad and mournful, and such a contrast to the first three movements that it hardly seems to belong.

Listener notes for Drei Romanzen (Three Romances):
5) Interesting use of dissonant chords in many parts of the main theme of the first movement (Track 9). You can hear them right away in first minute, and they are repeated in the final minute.

6) I wonder what love state Schumann had in mind for each of these movements. Perhaps the first movement with all the dissonance was a lover's quarrel, and the second movement (Track 10) is the mournful separation, and the third and final movement (Track 11) is the playful reunion of the lovers?

Listener notes for Waldszenen (Forest Scenes):
7) The first of the Forest Scenes, Entritt ("entry" in English, Track 12) is possibly the most beautiful and elegant piece of music I've ever heard in my entire life.

8) At the 0:17 mark of Track 14 (Einsame Blumen/Lonely Flowers) it sounds like Kempff makes a bad mistake. However, the same note pattern recurs at 1:01, so unless he deliberately made the mistake twice, Schumann probably wrote it that way. For a piece about flowers, it's a bit jarring.

9) I'm wondering what Schumann meant, exactly, by naming the fourth Forest Scene "Place of Evil Fame" (Verrufene Stelle).

10) Finally, Wilhelm Kempff's playing is extremely clean throughout this disc. I didn't hear a single error or missed note--in contrast to the (admittedly few) stray mistakes on disc 1.

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