Schumann: Waldszenen, Op. 82
On this evidence, Martin Helmchen is a pianist of exceptional elegance and refinement. He would seem to stand in a line of descent from Mozart rather than Beethoven, with his tonal palette more polished than lustrous, and a dramatic/emotional ‘temperature’ that’s more intimate than rhetorical. Schumann, by contrast, falls into both camps. He himself personified his dual nature in the form of two fanciful characters: Florestan (volatile, passionate, dramatic, gregarious) and Eusebius (reflective, poetic, introspective and solitary). Pianistically and dramatically, Helmchen seems more comfortable with Eusebius. For all its lyrical eloquence, the playing, particularly the overall rhythmic profile, may seem excessively reserved. For me, it ultimately lacks size. The final Etude, for instance, suffers from a surfeit of rhythmical-metrical symmetry, and a want of accentual variety that prevents the cohesion of phrases into larger, and dynamic, structural entities. This want of sufficient variety likewise affects the relationship and grip of the movements in sequence. That said, however, there’s much here to admire, not least the discreet but illuminating textural translucency.