WORKS: Piano Works, Vol. 7: Bunte Blätter; Nachtstücke; Drei Romanzen
PERFORMER: Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 452 855-2
This disc is recommendable largely because its contents are among the less-recorded of Schumann’s piano miniatures, ceding popularity to the more programmatic works such as Carnaval and Papillons. There is much exquisitely beautiful music in these little pieces (the longest on the disc is just over eight minutes) – for instance, the first of the Drei Stücklein in Bunte Blätter is a tender, almost Mendelssohnian song without words, and Ashkenazy performs it accordingly, with singer-like legato and arching, breathing phrases. Throughout the disc his awareness of the song-like nature of the pieces lends eloquence and beauty, especially in moments of dialogue between contrapuntal voices.
However, I find him less convincing in other aspects of the disc; the third Nachtstück is too driven, the first and final pieces of the Op. 28 Romanzen have a somewhat harsh tone quality and feel aggressive, lacking in real élan. Ashkenazy is at his best in the most overtly tender moments, which he conveys with directness and lack of sentimentality, capturing also the less obvious but still heart-aching moods (most notably the final Nachtstück in F, with its opening falling-fifth ‘Clara’ motif).
Of Schumann’s alter-egos, the inward and poetic Eusebius comes off better here than the wild and extrovert Florestan – who should be poetic too. Jessica Duchen