Schumann: Album für die Jugend

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Album für die Jugend
PERFORMER: Luba Edlina (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9731
Schumann was one of the few composers who could write music playable by children and learners which is also deeply felt and completely characteristic. Unlike his Kinderszenen, which is ‘childlike’ but was not meant primarily for teaching, the 43 short pieces in Album for the Young were started as a seventh birthday present for Schumann’s eldest daughter, Marie. The second half of the collection, consisting of the last 25 pieces, is described as being for more advanced players, although the key signatures don’t go beyond four sharps and still fewer flats.

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How should a concert pianist play such music? Luba Edlina, best known, perhaps, as pianist of the Borodin Trio, plays it directly, simply, with just a little of the give and take that only experienced and “musical” pianists understand, but without archness. Of course, her control of volume, textural balance and pedal are beyond most children, yet they are not too remote a target for them to aim at. She could, after all, have used the famous eighth piece, ‘Wilder Reiter’, as a vehicle for breathtaking excitement, but her tempo is moderate. Even in the profound thirteenth piece, ‘Mai, lieber Mai…’, her rapture and delicacy are eloquent, but not in the luxury class. In short, she doesn’t do the kind of sensational cosmetic job some high-flying soloists might have indulged in.

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The competition isn’t overwhelming for this collection – there is no ‘must-buy’ version. My only misgiving is Chandos’s recessed recording, which makes the piano sound a bit cold, when intimacy is the music’s hallmark. Still, Edlina is thoroughly recommended to music-lovers, teachers and learners, though on the Benchmark you also get extra pieces that Schumann rejected. Adrian Jack