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Robert Schumann

Davidsbündlertänze, Opus 6

Recordings, Part 2

Boris Berezovsky
Teldec 77476
Recorded 1992 (Berlin)

Comparative Versions: Kempff/DG, Gieseking/Classica D'Oro

To recap from Part 1, I found the versions of Davidsbündlertänze from Walter Gieseking and Wilhelm Kempff the most rewarding of the group of recordings reviewed. Boris Berezovsky is a young adult pianist born in Moscow in 1969.

He studied under Elisabeth Wirsaladze at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow and had his British debut at Wigmore Hall in 1988. Berezovsky's first recording for Teldec was a disc of Chopin's Etudes followed by a recording of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto. Although he has virtuosity to spare, there have been some grumblings from critics as to his degree of artistry.

Berezovsky's Schumann disc is in the 60-minute range and also has the Opus 22 Piano Sonata and the Toccata. One thing that's immediately apparent from listening to the disc is the extremely wide dynamic range. If you set the volume controls at a fine level for the loud music, you might have trouble hearing the softer passages. The simple fact is that you have to stay close to the controls and often alter them so that everything can be heard and the eardrums don't burst. It's a pain to have to be so vigilant, although great performances are well worth the effort.

Is Berezovsky's performance of Davidsbündlertänze in the 'great' category? Not quite, but there are some stirring moments. Personally, I have no problem with Berezovsky's artistry. In a work such as the Davidsbündlertänze, an excellent performance has to well convey Schumann's volatile and spontaneous nature as well as the interplay between the demonstrative Florestan and contemplative Eusebius. Berezovsky has the volatile nature in his blood and also provides great representations of our two imaginary heroes; the 1st Movement is ample proof as Berezovsky flashes back and forth between Florestan and Eusebius with the greatest of ease.

Berezovsky's 2nd Movement well captures the music's poignancy, but he is a little quick and can't match the depth of expression delivered by Walter Gieseking. In the 3rd Movement, Berezovsky establishes his identification with Schumann's exuberance, while the 4th Movement brings out a fine supply of Berezovsky's menace and appetite for danger.

At this point, I should reveal that Berezovsky can offer some off-beat phrasing now and then, and its effectiveness is 'hit or miss'. Still, with the basics all well in-hand, he can be forgiven a little wayward risk-taking.

Berezovsky can even match the best versions at times such as in the questioning 5th Movement where he presents his questions in a delightfully vivacious and light manner. Also splendid is Berezovsky's 7th Movement where he reaches for enlightenment as effectively as Gieseking.

Unfortunately, the powerful and dark 6th Movement finds Berezovsky to be a little low on tension; also, there's a 'snarling' element which he entirely discards. Switch to Kempff, and the snarl is razor-sharp. It makes a great difference in impact.

The 9th and 10th Movements find Berezovsky in fine shape as he delivers the power of these two pieces, high urgency in the 9th Movement, and angry declarations in the 10th . Where he greatly differs from Kempff and Gieseking is in a nervous energy which permeates both movements. By my reckoning, it's valid to ascribe to Schumann this nervous and fretting quality, and it gives the music a very interesting slant. However, the abrupt way Berezovsky plays these two movements likely would turn off a significant percentage of the audience. Although I appreciate Berezovsky's approach, I remain loyal to Kempff's incomparable and commanding performances of the 9th and 10th Movements.

Berezovsky's shining moment comes in the 11th Movement which I consider the best on record. Better than anyone else, he brings out the tenderness and comforting aspects with fine projection, lifting the music almost to masterpiece status. All goes well through the last movement with Berezovsky taking to the jittery and abrupt 16th Movement like a duck to water.

Don's Conclusions: Berezovsky's performance of the Davidsbündlertänze is an easy one to recommend. He has the full measure of Schumann's psychology and sound-world, a trait which immediately places him among the better Schumann performing artists. He plays the slow movements and passages with much tenderness and patience. My sole reservation is that Berezovsky's tension and bite in the faster music can be rather low. However, that is offset some by an excellent technique and fine virtuosity.

In summary, I wouldn't recommend Berezovsky as a collector's sole version of the Davidsbündlertänze; Kempff and Gieseking are great artists, and Berezovsky isn't there yet. For those who have a few recordings and would like to add to their collections a distinctive and very enjoyable interpretation, Berezovsky would be a fine choice. Although I have many more versions to review, I'm confident that his performance is one of the more rewarding on disc.

Copyright © 2002 by Don Satz.

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