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CD Review

Robert Schumann

Piano Music

  • Carnaval
  • Kinderszenen
  • Sonata #2
Ruth Slenczynska, piano
Ivory Classics 71004 66:07
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Many will think these recordings are reissues from the past, as were two previous albums of hers on Ivory Classics. But these Schumann works were recorded in October, 1999, when Slenczynska was 74. Her playing is quite robust and her interpretive ideas full of many insights. Carnaval, of course, makes many demands upon the performer, requiring a wide range of colors and emotions. She's fully up to the task, capturing Schumann's quirkiness, his warmth and anxiety, his playfulness and neurotic fervor.

Her Préambule is grandiose at the outset and colorfully animated in the latter half. Slower and more Romantic numbers, like Eusebius and Chopin come off with great feeling, despite fairly straightforward approaches. Schumann's humor and playful qualities are well served by Slenczynska's deft account of Arlequin and Pantalon et Columbine.

There's little in her playing to question in Carnaval. Her dynamics in a few places tend to be slightly unvarying, hovering around a mezzo-forte, where greater diversity would be desirable. And her Reconnaissance, though colorful, is slightly hampered by a reticent left hand. All in all, though, this is one of the best recent versions of the work I've heard.

Her Kinderszenen may be a bit too slow for some tastes, but the reading overall is effective in conveying Schumann's rather adult view of the world of children. The contrasts stand up especially well here: Pleading child sounds touchingly cute coming after the frenetic and playful Catch me if you can, and Dreaming comes across all the more innocent after the boastful Important event.

The Second Sonata gets another fairly straightforward treatment. Slenczynska catches both the drama and passion of the first movement in proper measure and misses none of the work's subtleties thereafter. Again, this is one of the finer recordings of this composition is recent memory. I would prefer this to the Argerich/DG, in fact.

It's too bad that Ruth Slenczynska dropped out of the recording scene for so long, since she still has much to say. She may be as good a pianist today as she was fifty years ago. Certainly, she is one of the more intelligent interpreters around, and her technique is still formidable. My only quibble with this recording is the slightly clangorous sound. It's not a major drawback since the notes generally come through clearly and realistically, but in louder passages the upper register has a bit of a metallic or glassy sound. The notes, as is typical of Ivory Classics, are informative. We can only look forward to more recordings from Ruth Slenczynska, one of the finest rediscoveries of the age.

Copyright © 2000, Robert Cummings