2010 Chopin-Schumann Anniversary Edition = CHOPIN: Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major, Op. 47; Prélude in C-sharp minor, Op. 45; Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49; Berceuse, Op. 57; Barcarolle, Op. 60; Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op. 61; Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2; Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52; SCHUMANN: Kreisleriana, Op. 16; BACH: Partita No. 2 in c, BWV 826 – Burkard Schliessmann, piano – MSR multichannel SACD 1361 (2 discs), 123:54 [Distr. By Albany] ***1/2:
Kudos to MSR for issuing their very first multichannel SACD; if the quality of future releases is as good as this one, then we are in good hands indeed, as they have captured Schliessmann’s personal Steinway to great effect, with an enveloping warm ambiance that presents the piano to great effect. There is nothing not enjoyable about hearing this instrument on this recording, and audiophiles will take note. This recording is devoted to the Chopin-Schumann bicentennial of their births.
Program-wise things become more difficult. Though the interviews I have read with the performer (both in the accompanying promo-package and in the notes themselves) indicate a willingness to take chances, explore deeply, and present some pieces as very intimate and others as full of fire, I find his Chopin curiously neutral. The sound he garners from the piano seems to me about perfect for the composer; capable of a vast range of expression and very sensitive to the needs of each moment, but none of it ever really catches fire. Perhaps it is because Schliessmann is caught between two polarizing worlds: that of Chopin the introverted creator of intimate yet expressive music, and the Chopin of performance history which has presented him as this Goliath of the piano whose music should be as towering as Liszt’s.
In walking this fine line I think that these readings, while immaculate, are perhaps a little too well-thought out in his desire to give us the real Chopin. For example, the beauteous and always blood-pounding Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat is well-manicured and perfectly rendered in a manner almost embarrassingly intimate (though don’t take that to mean without passion) yet when one compares it to that of Horowitz on his live Columbia recording from the 1960s you begin to see what is missing—a seat-of-your-pants willingness to walk the line that divides recklessness from pure control. This doesn’t mean that his Chopin is not worthy of hearing—far from it—but that I am not convinced that the things he says in print are indeed accomplished in sound.
His Schumann is also very much in the same mold, quite dry in concept and very much controlled, overly-cautious to the point of paranoia. I don’t think I have ever heard a Kreisleriana so immobilized in the thoughts of a performer, leaving few instances of the improvisatory abandon that is so essential to this composer. The strange thing is that it works as well as it does; Schliessmann renders critical opposition almost impotent because he is still able to make us believe in Schumann’s obsessive way with the Florestan/Eusebius dichotomy. An odd thing then; A technique that allows the free reign of competitive philosophies within one work by a means of absolute rigor—who would have guessed it? I still like other versions better than this one, notable Clara Würtz on Brilliant, Argerich on DG, and of course Horowitz, but Schliessmann’s effort is compelling—as is his Chopin, despite my caveats.
Curiously it is his Bach Partita that proves the most invigorating work here. Bach played with wild abandon is not usually successful, but a controlled and level-headed approach often works well when we sense that the pianist is in full command of his abilities, as we do here. This is invigorating and nicely shaped Bach, full of energy and commitment played at the highest technical level in great sound; what more could you want?
So all in all a very out of the ordinary recital, stunningly recorded by a pianist that I think will be very interesting to follow in future as his ideas continue to develop. What will be more fascinating is his ongoing struggle to translate these ideas into actual performances. By the way, MSR, next time find a better way to include the very well-done booklet. Attaching it to little dots of rubber glue-like substance did not last very long.
— Steven Ritter