Nick van Bloss plays Schumann piano works

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COMPOSERS: Robert Schumann
LABELS: Nimbus
ALBUM TITLE: Schumann
WORKS: Kreisleriana; Etudes symphoniques
PERFORMER: Nick van Bloss (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Nimbus NI 6318

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Nick van Bloss has been praised for his recordings of Bach’s Goldberg and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, so it’s perhaps not surprising that he is at his most convincing in Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques – a work also based on variation form. Van Bloss is particularly impressive in creating contrast and character between the 12 etudes that make up Schumann’s final version. He also makes a compelling case for a ‘pick and mix’ approach to the potentially thorny issue of where best to place the five posthumously published variations, interspersing each at different points in the work, as opposed to placing them altogether in chronological sequence in the middle – the strategy adopted by pianist Nelson Goerner on a rival Zig-Zag Territoires release whose programme also happens to include Kreisleriana.

In general, Van Bloss yields nothing to Goerner in terms of technical mastery. Yet his cooler approach seems less stylistically apposite for Schumann. This is particularly the case in Kreisleriana in which his relatively limited dynamic range and a blander response to voicing and the unexpected twists and turns of harmony tend to undermine the work’s quixotic nature. The faster sections in particular could be more impulsive (especially the fifth and seventh movements). Also van Bloss sounds rather stolid in his execution of the final movement in comparison to Goerner’s superbly playful articulation.

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Erik Levi