WORKS: Allegro in B minor, Op. 8; Kreisleriana; Gesänge der Frühe
PERFORMER: Maurizio Pollini (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 471 370-2
There was surely no other composer who so consistently revised his earlier music – and almost always to its detriment – as did Schumann, who revisited most of his great piano works in later life, ironing out their harmonic eccentricities and often rendering them more symmetrical through the addition of internal repeats. When it comes to Kreisleriana, Pollini is the first pianist in my experience to stick uncompromisingly to the first edition, and certainly the opening number, storming forth in the ‘wrong’ key, sounds more impulsive without the usual repeats in its first section. Schumann’s revision also altered the proportions of the second piece, and while it’s possible to feel he never found a wholly satisfactory form for it, the earlier version has the advantage of avoiding a rather inelegant cut in the main theme’s final return. No one is likely to choose their Kreisleriana on textual grounds alone, but fortunately Pollini’s is a compelling performance – not quite as spontaneous-sounding as Martha Argerich’s dazzling version, but certainly among the very best.
Much less familiar than Kreisleriana are the early B minor Allegro, and the luminous Gesänge der Frühe – Schumann’s last completed piano work, composed some four months before his mental breakdown. Prophetically, the ‘Dawn Songs’ drew inspiration from Hölderlin, another creative genius who spent his final years in an asylum. It’s good to have all these pieces played by a virtuoso of Pollini’s calibre, even though his rather austere approach fails at times to lift the music off the page. Misha Donat