Himy captures Schumann excitement
In a well-filled CD [Homage to Schumann, Centaur CRC2825], Pianist Eric Himy shows he really has his finger on the pulse of some of Robert Schumann's most romantic and most intriguing music. The major works here are Carnaval Op. 9 and the Symphonic Etudes Op.13. For extra measure, we also get four popular encores: the florid Arabesque, the endearing Liszt transcription of the song Widmung (Dedication), with its intricate cross rhythms, the radiantly charming Frühlingsnacht (Spring Night, also transcribed by Liszt), and the ever-popular Träumerei (Daydream), which sounds surprisingly fresh in Himy's rendition.
Carnaval was a landmark in Schumann's career. Though not overtly programmatic, there is clearly a story of love-intrigue here. The composer's descriptive titles serve as our guides. Papillons are social butterflies, of the human rather than insect variety, devotees of the favorite indoor sport of gossip. VII thru IX, Coquette, Réplique, and Sphinx, represent three traits of woman that have always fascinated the unwary male of the species: flirtatiousness, duplicity, and mystery. When we get to XII, Chiarra, our hero (Schumann himself) has finally discovered his perfect woman. From the merry pounding the keyboard takes at this point, it could only be Robert's own beloved Clara. XIII, Chopin, is a dreamy nocturne that out-Chopins its subject and is the emotional center of the work. XVIII Paganini allows the pianist ample scope for virtuosity, as befits its subject. In XIV, Estrella, the course of true love suffers a momentary reversal when the "other woman" enters the picture. But with XV Reconnaissance (Recognition) and XIX Aveu (Lovers' Vow), we are on our way to a happy, and very triumphant, ending.
No one knows quite what Schumann had in mind when he penned the name Symphonic Etudes. Certainly, the richness of harmony and polyphony of these studies gives them a "symphonic" character that extended their range beyond what one normally expected of music for a keyboard instrument. He also had the inspired idea of basing his variations upon preceding variations rather than a basic theme, increasing their family resemblance while stressing the unity and concentrated power of the work. Eric Himy recognizes that the very persuasive quality of the Symphonic Etudes lies in their strong rhythmic impetus, even more than their lyrical and harmonic riches, and he vigorously propels this work along. He includes, as not all pianists do, the five Posthumous Variations (something of a misnomer, as they were known in Schumann's day) on the grounds that they increase the depth and expressiveness of the whole. Since four of the five are notably quiet, poetic and intimate, they provide a contrast and a point of reflection before the smashing finale. It's a matter of taste. Those who prefer the original version can always program their CD player using the remote.
By the way, this is the premiere recording made with the new Steingraeber & Söhne Phoenix Piano. From what I hear, I'd say it has a very attractive quality that serves the music of Schumann and his era very well.
Dr. Phil Muse