I received this CD as a gift from a friend who knew I was struggling to learn Robert Schumann's Carnaval. The gift could not have been more inspiring or appropriate. In this CD, the 75 year old Ruth Slencynska plays Schumann's Carnaval, Scenes from Childhood, and Sonata No. 2 with the romance and spirit of youth. I have played both Carnaval and the Scenes from Childhood, but the sonata no. 2 was new to me. Hearing these performances of Ms. Slenzyska's old age inspired me greatly to keep working on learning these pieces, to hear new beauties in them, and not to give up.
Ms. Slenczynska (b. 1925) was born in California and was a child prodigy who was subjected to a rigorous musical education beginning at the age of three. She studied in Europe with Schnabel, Petri, Corot and Hoffman and was hailed as a child prodigy. She withdrew from public performance at the age of fifteen as a result of emotional stress. She attended the University of California where she married and did not play the piano in public until her divorce in 1953 at which time she resumed her concert career at the age of 28. After that time, she concertized widely, particularly in Europe and Japan, and taught piano at Southern Illinois University as Artist in Residence. She also has written two books, "Forbidden Childhood", the story of her life as a child prodigy, and "Music at your Fingertips: Aspects of Pianforte Technique".
This recording was made in 1999 and was Ruth Slencznska's first in twenty years. In it she shows herself a pianist in the romantic tradition with beautiful rubato, dynamic control, fluid rhythm, creative voicing, and spirit.
Schumann's Carnaval is one of the most beloved of piano works and consists of 21 short movements of character sketches and dance interludes. Schumann portrays the two sides of his personality in two connected pieces, Eusebius, dreamy and introspective, and Florestan, passionate and impulsive. Slencynska captures both sides of Schumann in her playing. The work concludes with a famous March of the Friends of David against the Philistines which Slenczynska captures with swing and a mastery of the difficult and rapid dotted rhythm with which the piece ends. The dance movements of the work move with grace and the feel of imagination and romance. This is an outstanding performance of a great work.
Schumann's also composed his "Scenes from Childhood" as a young man just at the time of his marriage to Clara Weick. It consists of 13 short pieces capturing an adult vision of growing up. I have recently been relearning this piece to celebrate the birth of a granddaughter. Slenczynska takes the work, on the whole, at a slow and introspective tempo beginning with the opening piece, "From Foreign Lands and Places." Her performance of the famous "Traumerei" is a marvel of eloquence and simplicity, and she uses flowing and varied tempo masterfully in "Almost too Serious".
The final work on this program was Schumann's second piano sonata which was new to me. This is a four-movement work in which a slow melodic second movement is surrounded by three minor-key movements of passion. I enjoyed the last movement with its contrasting passionate and lyrical sections. This is Schumann that deserves to be heard more often.
This CD is beautifully played. But equally important, it gave me the opportunity to learn of and learn from Ms. Slenczynska. The performances show the value of persistence and study and of keeping a creative and open heart no matter what one's age. The CD inspired me to redouble my efforts with Schumann.