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SCHUMANN: Papillons; Carnaval; Davidsbuendlertaense – Philippe Bianconi, p. – La Dolce Volta

Philippe Biancoli revisits those Schumann works that indulge in masks and identity transformation.

SCHUMANN: Papillons, Op. 2; Carnaval, Op. 9; Davidsbuendlertaense, Op. 6 – Philippe Bianconi, p. – La Dolce Volta LDV 28, 77:51 (9/30/16) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:

Philippe Bianconi attended the Conservatory in Nice where he studied with Simone Delbert-Fevrier. In Paris he studied with Gaby Casadesus and in Freiburg-in-Breisgau with Vitalij Margulis. He was the first prize winner of both the Casadesus International Competition in Cleveland and the “Jeunesse Musicales” International Competition in Belgrade, as well as the Silver Medal of the Seventh Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth.

Biancoli recorded this all-Schumann recital 7-10 April 2016, meaning to capture the theme of “Doubles and Masks.” Biancoli takes Schumann at his “word,” insofar as the composer responds in all of the works presented here to Jean-Paul Richter’s novel Flegeljahre Years of Indiscretion – to create a series of masked balls whose characters represent the many contradictory aspects of Schumann’s psyche.  Rife with biographical allusions and anagrams of the name of “Schumann” and the town of “Asch,” the pieces often roam into fact and fiction, the commedia dell’arte, and the ongoing romances in Schumann’s personal life. The transpositions of the notes A, E-flat, C and B allow Schumann to make inside jokes and permutations of character, his “little scenes on four notes” of Carnaval. Even the Sphinxes – heard in the Replique section – lie at the bottom of the keyboard to sound out the motif in long notes. Though Papillons (1831) precedes the Florestan/Eusebius duality in Schumann’s official psychological dualism,its “masking” devices in the form of waltzes and polonaises readily lend themselves to a backward glance from Schumann initiates, of whom Nietzsche counted himself a member. Poetic and resolute at once, the Biancoli Carnaval moves briskly, ardent with commitment and digital prowess – witness his Paganini section and the fiery March Against the Philistines – whose anticipation we had in the “Grandfather Dance” in Papillons.

More philosophically militant than the other series of character sketches, the 1837 Davidsbuendler Taenze proffer a line of “intiation” tempos, often alternrating then combining extreme opposites of bliss and sorrow. Biancoli first recorded these introspective and ardent pieces some twenty years ago, so his new version has a wider breadth of experience. The idea lies in combating the intellectual complacency of the so-called “cultured” class whose ossified traditions retard spiritual progress and personal insight. Having recently reviewed Beth Levin’s interpretation of this magnum opus, I find Biancoli’s approach equally “inner-directed” and intimate, but whose quick tempos move with suave, salon grace. The drooping figures of the Innig section will reappear in the penultimate Wie aus der Ferne (as though far away) as a kind of melancholy reprise of a lost dream. But what marks most of the performance lies in Biancoli’s assertive, virile tone, as in Mit Humor, which rebounds from the Eusebius halting intimacy in terms of Florestan’s self-assurance. The Dances of the Davids-League conclude with a “double”: the six chimes of Papillons’ morning call to toll the sound of midnight, at which time Eusebius moves in a slow waltz that serves as an epilogue to a truly epic odyssey of the musical imagination.

—Gary Lemco

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