BRAHMS: Paganini Variations, Op. 35; Handel Variations, Op. 24; Schumann Variations, Op. 9 – Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy, piano – Brilliant Classics

by | Nov 14, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

BRAHMS: Paganini Variations, Op. 35; Handel Variations, Op. 24;
Schumann Variations, Op. 9 – Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy, piano –
Brilliant Classics  MultiChannel SACD 92550 ****:

Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (b. 1967) is a much-touted award winner,
another purveyor of the Steinway D Concert Grand, who makes difficult
pieces sound transparent and supple. Audio engineer Reinhard Geller
keeps the piano sound eminently euphonious. Schmitt-Leonardy comes by
the music of Brahms through a natural pedigree: his own teacher,
Professor Sellier, was a pupil of both Walter Gieseking and Edwin
Fischer. The bravura variations of Brahms, written for big hands and
strong wrists, find a sympathetic acolyte in Schmitt-Leonardy, who
tosses off the Paganini set with aplomb. Even the double octave
passages achieve a thunderous luminosity.

The Handel set, too, conceived more as a Schumannesque series of
character-pieces, reveals the diversity of Schmitt-Leonardy’s palette,
alternately intoning Magyar chorales, siciliani, and a music-box. The
final fugue is vigorously crisp and lucid. A relative rarity on this
disc is the 1854 set of sixteen variations on a theme from Schumann’s
Bunte Blaetter, Op. 99, No. 4. Brahms offered his variations up as an
homage to the ongoing musical dialectic in Schumann’s own personality,
the tension between Florestan and Eusebius. The Allegro capriccioso
variant, with its rapid staccato repeats, has a Lisztian fervor.
Variation Seven, an Andante, has more than a touch for Rachmaninov’s
delectation. The many whirling, leggiero figures, etudes really, likely
testify to the composer’s desire to follow in the virtuoso paths of
Schumann’s own Kreisleriana. The piece concludes with two dreamy
adagios, the latter an epilogue in which the poet remembers things lost.

–Gary Lemco

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