Schumann: Papillons; Abegg Variations; Davidsbündlertänze

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Caprice
WORKS: Papillons; Abegg Variations; Davidsbündlertänze
PERFORMER: Matti Hirvonen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CAP 21664
Hirvonen is a Finnish-born, Sweden-based pianist well-known and highly respected in Scandinavia for his chamber music and ensemble work no less than as a soloist. This Schumann disc makes for tricky reviewing. It’s clearly the product of an intelligent and vigorous musical mind, with decisive ideas about the composer and both the personality and the fingers to put them across; at the same time the sum total strikes me as some of the most unidiomatic Schumann-playing I’ve heard in a while.

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If one defines the ideal Schumann interpreter as blending poet, dreamer, intimate voicer of secret emotions and voyager on sometimes bold, mind-opening intellectual journeys, one may have difficulty in recognising Hirvonen as a Schumann pianist at all. In Papillons his apparently deliberate boosting of bass lines (sometimes near-thumped), ‘editorial’ pauses for emphasis, un-supple phrasing and unwillingness to let melodies take flight put me in mind of Claudio Arrau’s final-period Schumann-playing – except that even then Arrau’s genius so often transfigured any initial ponderousness. Hirvonen’s is an unusually slow Papillons; it’s also, for me, a painfully heavy-handed one.

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The other pieces fare somewhat better – the stridingly energetic movements of the Davidsbündlertänze most of all – as long as one keeps out of mind the overall effect of subtle romance and delicate reverie that one knows those works as a whole can convey. More rewarding performances of all three exist in abundance in the catalogue: Cortot’s incomparably free-spirited Schumann readings and, in modern recordings, Perahia’s exquisitely moulded ones are my first choices. Max Loppert