Schumann: Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13; Carnaval, Op. 9

COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Schumann
WORKS: Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13; Carnaval, Op. 9
PERFORMER: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 63426-2
Aimard clearly has a special empathy for Schumann. His performance of Carnaval has great immediacy and captures most effectively the essentially schizophrenic nature of Schumann’s musical personality, sometimes contemplative and at other moments demonic and impulsive. He welds the contrasting sequence of miniature character pieces into a convincing whole by a judicious intensification of mood as we proceed inexorably towards the final March of the Davidsbündler.

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There is a similar concern for sustaining long-term impetus in the performance of the Études Symphoniques. Aimard presents the work with the extra five variations that were suppressed from the 1852 edition placed within the main musical argument, rather than as an appendix, which is the preferred if less musically satisfying strategy adopted by András Schiff on Warner Elatus. Neither Schiff nor Aimard manages to attain the mercurial brilliance of Marc-André Hamelin whose delivery of Etudes III and IX and Variations IV to VI in the 1852 version is nothing short of breathtaking in its control of texture and clarity of touch. The difference between the three artists is even more tangible in the formidably difficult Finale where Hamelin, following Schumann’s marking of Allegro brillante to the letter, somehow manages to make the often thickly scored chords trip off the keyboard with much brighter tone and impulsiveness than the comparatively stolid Aimard and the rather hardedged Schiff. Erik Levi