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CD Review

Robert Schumann

  • Introduction & Allegro appassionato (Concertstück), Op. 92
  • Variations on an Original Theme in E Flat Major "Geistervariationen", WoO 24
  • Introduction & Concert-Allegro in D minor, Op. 134
  • Six Etudes in Canonic Form, Op. 56
    (arr. for two pianos by Claude Debussy) *
Tzimon Barto, piano
* Christoph Eschenbach, piano
North German Radio Symphony Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach
Ondine ODE1162-2
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What a varied program of generally less frequently-encountered fare by Robert Schumann! How many discs will one find duplicating this program? Here you get a two-piano version of the pedal piano/organ original of the Six Etudes, with conductor/pianist Eschenbach joining in to take the first piano part with Tzimon Barto. And, of course, we get the two non-concerto concertante works by Schumann, common repertory, admittedly, but also the rarely-performed and -recorded Geister Variations.

Oddly, the album cover gives primary billing to Christoph Eschenbach, and the notes indicate that he was instrumental in arranging the order of the works on the disc: the first three are presented to reflect the structure of a piano concerto, even though the middle one, the Geister Variations, is for solo piano. But, we learn that this CD marks Eschenbach's 70th birthday, as well as the 200th anniversary of Schumann's birth. In any event, Tzimon Barto is really the star here, and his readings of the Concertstück and the Introduction and Concert-Allegro are well played, if a bit understated and drawn out. These are probing readings, both artists apparently united in a quest to plumb these Schumann works for all their expressive depth. It's almost as if we get Schumann viewed through a Brucknerian or Wagnerian lens. Not that the music is inflated or forced toward the epic or grand, but it is given a more thoughtful treatment than what the listener is accustomed to. The big theme in the Introduction and Concert-Allegro, for example, is taken at a very slow tempo and treated ever so delicately by soloist and orchestra. But Barto also turns in some real virtuosic work here as well: the rippling passage work at the outset of the middle section is breathtaking in its spirit and drive. I do wish, however, that the quiet end of Barto's dynamics had a little more heft, but, all in all, these are insightful, beautiful performances. Eschenbach and the orchestra turn in fine supporting work.

The Geister Variations also comes across with a generally understated, somewhat ponderous character. In the Eschenbach-Barto collaboration in Claude Debussy's arrangement of Schumann's Six Etudes in Canonic Form we again are given a subdued, probing approach. But then, apart from the playful Fifth Variation, this gentle work was hardly infused with glitter and electricity by the composer. Thus the two pianists are right on the mark. The sound in all works is vivid. Recommended.

Copyright © 2010, Robert Cummings