Autour de ROBERT SCHUMANN = C. SCHUMANN: 3 Preludes and Fugues on Themes of Schumann; BRAHMS: 7 Variations on a Theme by Schumann; SCHUNCKE: Grande Sonata; SCHUMANN: Toccata in C Major; 5 Pieces, Gesange der Fruhe – Sylviane Deferne, p. – Doron

by | Jun 20, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

Autour de ROBERT SCHUMANN = C. SCHUMANN: 3 Preludes and Fugues on Themes of Robert Schumann, Op. 16; BRAHMS: 7 Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Op. 9; SCHUNCKE: Grande Sonata in G Minor, Op. 3; SCHUMANN: Toccata in C Major, Op. 7; 5 Pieces, Gesange der Fruhe, Op. 133 – Sylviane Deferne, piano – Doron DRC 5035, 76:04 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
Swiss pianist Sylviane Deferne has organized (rec. at Radio-Canada,13-15 June 1994) a loving postcard for the Schumann circle, concentrating on those compositions written by or in the spirit of Schumann’s Davids-League. She subtitles her collection “Chants de l‘aube,” Songs of Dawn, the French version of Schumann‘s Op. 133.  Robert and Clara dedicated the years 1844-45 to intensive contrapuntal studies, obviously centered on the works of J.S. Bach. Louis (Ludwig) Schuncke (1810-1834) had been a respected pianist and musician, the dedicatee of Schumann’s Op. 7 Toccata. But Schuncke died young of tuberculosis. Johannes Brahms joined the elect Schumann circle in 1853, but by 1854 Schumann displayed the first of the series of signs of mental illness that claimed his creativity and his life in 1856.
Clara Schumann (1819-1896) composed her Preludes and Fugues, Op. 16 in 1845. Each of the three performed by Deferne exhibits a restrained contrapuntal mastery after a chromatic prelude, though rarely do the figures fly with the passionate abandon they achieve in Bach. The staid character of the three might be mistaken for dark Bach or somber Franck.
Brahms dedicated his Op. 9 of 1854 to Clara Schumann, his having selected a theme from the Buente Blaetter, Schumann’s Op. 99.  Brahms intended his homage to offer sweet consolation to Clara, who in June 1854 was already living as a kind of “widow” to the man whom she would see but once more, just days before his death. The theme and variations opens in F-sharp Minor, at least for the first eight; he uses the same theme Clara adapted for her own Op. 20. Four of the sixteen variants assume contrapuntal form, and numbers 9 and 10 allude directly to Schumann’s Albumblatt in B Minor and to his Op. 41 A Minor String Quartet. Schumann’s own homage to “Chopin” from the Carnaval suite appears in number 14. That the No. 10 also quotes from an Impromptu Op. 5 by Robert Schumann finds an additional irony in that Robert had borrowed that tune from a Romanze by Clara, certainly a tight circle of musical intertextuality! At times, pianist Deferne transforms the piece into an extended dreamy nocturne, deferring bravura for the poetic impulse of Schumann’s Eusebius. In the more playful episodes, Deferne manages to invoke the Op. 2 Papillons of Schumann into the Brahms matrix.
Ludwig Schuncke composed his G Minor Sonata, Op. 3 in 1832, “dedicated to his friend Robert Schumann.” Those who juxtapose bars 78-81 of Schuncke’s first movement alongside bars 402-405 of the Schumann A Minor Concerto find obvious correspondences. Schuncke favors small segments of melody that extend outward lyrically, much in the style of Schubert impromptus, especially D. 935, No. 1. Before the first movement ends, the writing has become emboldened and militant, with passing dissonance and three-hand effects. The Scherzo resembles a Schubert cantering song, one of the Abschied horse-back songs. The writing has become virtuosic, exploiting the bass line and syncopated effects. The slow movement clearly reveals a lyric gift in Schuncke, a balanced lied, almost a cradle song. A toccata-like Presto concludes this elegant piece, which Schumann pronounced Schuncke’s best composition. The fluid stream of 16ths reminds one of a glittery Mendelssohn Scherzo in a kind of illumined moto-perpetuo. We recall that Schuncke had performed Hummel’s A Minor Concerto in concert to great effect, and he had imitated the Chopin bravura style as well as the Schumann ethos. The middle section proves ruminative before the brilliant momentum resumes in florid and impassioned style, closing on four unexpectedly soft chords.
The 1829-1833 C Major Toccata of Schumann, “dedicated to Ludwig Schuncke,” is meant to provide the repertory with a genuinely difficult moment of bravura. Its relentless stretches seem mother’s milk for Deferne, who adds her considerable prowess in this piece to the annals that include Lhevinne, Richter, Cziffra and Horowitz. She manages to define the main theme even in the midst of almost chaotic musical fury, breathless and breath-taking at once in the wild polyphony Schumann creates.
Somehow, in 1854, Schumann enjoyed a moment of poetic clarity in the midst of his mental tortures, and he wrote to Joseph Joachim, “I must compose now, for as long as daylight lingers.” In the very dissolution of his mental faculties Schumann experienced what he felt were signs of light, the Zweilicht (double-light) of a new day’s emerging from the darkness. We could easily make analogies to the fallen Nietzsche. His five Songs of Dawn Op. 133 he dedicated “to the poet Bettina Brentano.” The five pieces play as a set of romantic character pieces or intermezzi with interlocking sequences, much as his earlier works. The third  of the set rises in martial optimism and masculine assertion, a la Florestan. The fourth abounds in polyphonic three-hand effects over an inner pulsation of intimate, poetic ardor. The last piece echoes “The Poet Speaks” from Kinderszenen, a plaint that aspires to those bells of thanksgiving for gifts that pass from our mortal coil all too soon.
—Gary Lemco

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