Marc-Andre Hamelin,one of the most gifted pianists of our time, has recorded works of little-known composers, such as the American Leo Orenstein, together with standard works, such as a recent two-volume set of Haydn sonatas. In this CD, Hamelin performs three of Robert Schumann's most poetic and romantic works for piano, the early Papillons, the Fantasiestucke, and Carnaval. Hamelin's virtuosity on the piano is beyond question; and in this CD he displays the most lyrical and sensitive musicianship to accompany his technical gifts.
Much of Schumann's early piano music draws upon his love of literature, as do each of the three works here. Schumann composed Papillons, Opus 2 in 1832 as a young man of 20 under the influence of a romantic novel by John Paul Richter. The twelve pieces in the collection are dances in a variety of moods -- some tender and reflective, others fiery and passionate. The music is full of both fluttering, light passages and of heavy, marked octaves. The Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter made a famous recording of this work, and I enjoyed comparing his reading with the varying tempos and interpretations of Hamelin. Both Richter and Hamelin offer outstanding readings of Papillons.
Schumann eight "fantasypieces" opus 12 dates from 1838, six years after Papillons. I had the opportunity to hear Hamelin perform this work live in a concert at Washington D.C.'s National Gallery in 2003. (In fact, he autographed my score of the work.) Probably the best-known portion of this piece is the short selection "Warum". In listening to this recording, I was taken with the opening work, "Das Abends", and with the lightness with which Hamelin plays the difficultly syncopated theme in triplets that runs through the work. In this collection again, Schumann alternates moments of lyricism and introspection with works of bravura. Hamelin captures the impulsively changing moods of this music.
Schumann's Carnaval, opus 9 is one of my beloved works of music for the piano and a highpoint of musical romanticism. I have myself attempted it on the piano. In Carnaval, Schumann depicts characters at a masked ball. He portrays two aspects of himself in the pieces called "Eusebius" and "Florestan". He offers a musical portrait of his wife-to-be, Clara Wieck, in a piece captioned "Chiarina" together with a depiction of a former romantic interest in "Estrella". Chopin and Paganini receive musical portrayals in "Carnaval" -- the latter in a devilishly difficult work which captures Paganini's violin technique, and there are dance interludes and portrayals of figures from the comedia de l'arte such as "harlequin". The work exhibits a spirit of love and artistic optimism as Schumann writes a finale depicting the triumph of art and creativity against the materialism and philistinism of his day.
In its passion, lyricism and celebration of feeling, Schumann's romanticism has much to teach our skeptical age. Whether you are coming to Schumann's music anew or whether you have heard it countless times, this splendid recording by Haemelin will reveal to you the fire and imagination of this great composer.