WORKS: Abegg Variations, Op. 1; Kinderszenen, Op. 15; Arabesque in C, Op. 18; Albumblätter, Op. 124; Blumenstück, Op. 19; Clavierstücke in Fughettenform, Op. 126; Theme with Variations in E flat, WoO 24 (Geister); Variations on a theme by Beethoven; Carnaval, Op. 9; 3 Romances, Op. 28
PERFORMER: Eric Le Sage (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Alpha 169
With this release, Eric Le Sage concludes his epic and outstanding Schumann survey. The most obvious selling point here is the inclusion of works unknown even to most pianists – the strange but engrossing Beethoven and Geister Variations, for instance, the Seven Fugues, and most of the Albumblätter. Beginning with Op. 1 and ending with music surrounding Schumann’s suicide attempt, this is effectively a biography in sound.
As such, it should be listened to in the presented order. It’s a mostly entrancing, sometimes disturbing and a pervasively haunting portrait of a great mind and spirit doomed to confusion and, finally, disintegration.
The most popular of all Schumann’s piano works, Carnaval,draws from Le Sage a performance which triumphs unobtrusively over extreme familiarity to create an aura of spontaneity and freshness which beguiles the ear and the imagination alike. This is pianism and musicianship of a rare order. Sad to report, given the high quality of this series as a whole, this represents a peak in a rather erratic landscape (oddly appropriate, in a way, given the character of Schumann’s own output).
The opening Abegg Variations, while pianistically beautiful throughout, are beset by surprisingly unvarying inflections, too much near-literal repetition and a plethora of audible barlines, despite a generally buoyant left hand. The brilliant Toccata suffers from a surfeit of chugga-chugga dupleness, development is sparse, and the final cadence stops rather than ends. The Kinderszenen, too, is a (generally distinguished) curate’s egg. On balance, though, this remains a worthwhile and intriguing programme. Jeremy Siepmann