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CD Review

Robert Schumann

Piano Works

  • Four Marches, Op. 76
  • Four Fugues, Op. 72
  • Seven Piano Pieces in the form of Fugues, Op. 126
  • Album for the Young, Op. 68, #8
  • Album for the Young, Additional Pieces, WoO 16
  • Album for the Young, Additional Pieces, WoO 30
  • Album Leaf "Notion"
Juan Carlos Rodríguez, piano
Naxos 8.573094 69:05
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Cadiz-born pianist Juan Carlos Rodríguez has won several Spain-based international competitions, including the Les Corts International Piano Competition in Barcelona. He has made at least one previous recording, a collection of works by Beethoven, de Falla and Albeniz on the Solfa label (SR1112090). From the evidence on this Naxos CD, I would conclude that Rodríguez is a talented pianist with fine technique and a good interpretive sense for Schumann and his sometimes quirky expressive manner.

As Schumann and piano music mavens can observe from the heading above, the repertory here falls into the category of neglected or largely unknown. Yet, for the most part it is worthy of attention, especially if one's interests include solo piano music from the Romantic era in general. The Four Marches are all solid and well-crafted pieces. In fact, I find it a bit of a puzzle why these pieces are not more popular. True, some might charge that the music can often sound like warmed-over Schumann or that some of the material overstays its welcome. But I think both assertions are ultimately unfair and that if these cannot be universally judged first-rate Schumann, then they are still fine works. They are all light and tuneful pieces and should have appeal to most listeners on first exposure. #2 is the perhaps the best of the four.

The Four Fugues are comparatively cerebral compositions and, not surprisingly, exude the air of J.S. Bach. Cerebral yes, but they are still mostly direct in expression and not particularly challenging for the listener. Sviatoslav Richter occasionally programmed these fugues in Russia and on tour, generating at least two live performances on disc. The Op. 126 Piano Pieces in the Form of Fugues are in much the same vein, but are shorter and less elaborate. The Fourth and Seventh of these are quite a breathless creations, bristling with much energy and sunlight throughout their brief durations.

The various additions to the Album for the Young are all short, most lasting around a minute. Actually, they are not additions, but pieces rejected by the discerning Schumann when he decided to publish the work. In any event, they are light works and simple in expression – but not simple-minded, and generally they are of an optimistic character, a notable exception being the somewhat dark Fourth piece of WoO 16. The WoO 30 set consists of sixteen pieces here, forming the most substantial of the additions to the Album for the Young. Most are quite attractive efforts, making you wonder why the composer ever rejected them. The piece that concludes this CD, Ahnung (Foreboding), is a gentle though dark work of two-and-a-half minutes that is not particularly striking.

Rodríguez is quite effective in nearly all of the music here. He brings out the marvelous colors and ebullience of the marches and is generally alert to the somewhat more challenging nature of the fugal pieces. He is very fluent and spirited in the Op. 72 set, comparing quite favorably with a live Richter performance: to tell you the truth, I generally favored Rodríguez in the A-B comparison, Richter sounding a little labored, brittle and at times sluggish, though in the last piece he turned in a quite compelling performance. In the Album for the Young additions, again Rodríguez captures the essence of Schumann's expressive soul, deftly imparting a freshness and youthfulness to the music in his tempo choices, phrasing and well-judged dynamics.

Naxos provides excellent sound and Keith Anderson's notes are most helpful. In sum, if you're in the market for some neglected or relatively unknown Schumann, this recording should certainly have appeal.

Copyright © 2013, Robert Cummings