WORKS: Davidsbündlertänze; Concert sans orchestre
PERFORMER: Maurizio Pollini (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 471 369-2
What most interests me about this new Pollini Schumann disc is the texts used – not, alas, the performances themselves or the artistic insights they offer. Pollini opts for first versions of compositions subsequently re-worked. Schumann’s 1851 revision of the Davidsbündlertänze (1837) was slight, mainly to do with the addition of sectional repeats (which to my mind enrich the whole conception).
The differences between the F minor Sonata in its ‘Concert sans orchestre’ estate (a title originally demanded by the publisher) and final form are larger. The early work possesses a validity all its own which Horowitz’s splendid recordings had previously established. The 1837 Davidsbündlertänze version is a less significant cause to champion, though András Schiff’s 1995 Teldec recording had a shot at doing so.
But frankly, if Pollini were a more sensitive Schumann player, all discussion of editions would fade into a properly subordinate place. His reading of the Davidsbündlertänze, the most intimately fanciful, tenderly humorous and (in places) lovestruck of the great Schumann piano opuses, astonishes me – in the armour-plated power and security of the playing, which the close-quarters DG recording emphasises, and in the thoroughgoing refusal to explore the music’s quiet secret places and tones of voice.
Three available recordings – Cortot’s of 1935, Wilhelm Kempff’s of 1967 (placid, perhaps, but beautifully unvarnished in style), and Eighties Perahia (my benchmark choice) – will provide the strongest antidote. Pollini’s sweeping grasp of the Sonata’s outer movements brings rewards: not enough, though, to compensate for the absence of those poetic varieties of colour and mood normally associated with authentic Schumann-playing. Max Loppert