Schumann: Album für die Jugend, Op. 68

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Album für die Jugend, Op. 68
PERFORMER: Rico Gulda (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555711
Schumann’s 1848 album of 43 short pieces, intended to expand the prowess of very youthful pianists, was begun with his daughter Marie in mind. Soon, however, the conception grew larger: the early-numbered items may be extremely simple, but the later ones are enriched by typically Schumannesque fantasy, secret mottos, literary references, homages to composer-friends. The sum is a collection of musical watercolours at once contained within, and marvellously inspired by, its self-imposed didactic aims and technical limitations.

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But the Album was never intended for public performance. This may be one reason why it has been neglected in concert and on record: few front-rank pianists have tackled any of it. Ideally, an artist of Sviatoslav Richter’s stature, a virtuoso of dauntless fantasy and ageless imagination, is needed to maintain childlike intimacy while giving such miniatures a public face. Neither player here approaches that ideal; but the young Rico Gulda, son of the late Friedrich (a major Schumann pianist in his own right), brings to the entire series a ‘personal’ boldness, definition, and breadth of colour-range that kept me gripped.

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His imagination seems set alight by such pieces as the soulfully lyrical ‘Mignon’, No. 35. By contrast, my interest in Michael Endres’s sequence soon began to waver. The German pianist’s touch is gentle and sensitive, sometimes tenderly so; in spite of this he comes across as too ‘domestic’, lacking in tonal and dramatic variety (Gulda’s speeds are generally both faster and slower). Naxos’s fuller sound-picture is an added bonus. Max Loppert