ETA HOFFMAN: Piano Sonatas 1-5; SCHUMANN: Kreisleriana, Op. 16 – Luisa Guembes-Buchanan, piano – Del Aguila 55305 (2 CDs), 99:58 ***:
It’s certainly not a bad idea pairing ET Hoffman’s five extant piano sonatas with Schumann’s Kreisleriana, inspired as they are by the wild and whacky Kapellmeister that Hoffman created in his own Kreisleriana and philosophical/humorous musings of Murr the Tomcat, where Kreisler’s own thoughts are completely interwoven with the feline presence. But what might surprise the unsuspecting listener is the baroque sentiment so obviously perpetrated in the Hoffman works. Well, not quite baroque, though his reliance on the fugue is almost obsessive; yet one detects a romantic spirit in the music without quite leaving the classical forms behind, as if Hoffman sensed what was coming yet lacked the requisite skills to get him there. Of the eight originals only five are left, most are minor key, and all are fascinating examples of a writer who also composed, though he would have disputed this himself. Perhaps his one claim to fame in the musical realm is the composition of his opera Undine, perhaps the first truly romantic opera ever penned. These sonatas will not catapult him to fame, though they are certainly pleasant and entertaining. But it’s as a writer that we will remember him, and secondarily as a man who inspired other composers—his own music will have to remain the third factor.
This music has only been recorded recently one other time, by a now defunct but still available at a price CPO recording with Wolfgang Brunner. As is we will have to do with this 10-year-old reading in stuffy sound by Luisa Guembes-Buchanan, who nevertheless seems to have complete mastery of the music and puts it forth in a really convincing manner. She obviously likes it, and this helps us to like it too.
But the Kreisleriana that follows on disc 2 is not nearly as convincing; here Luisa Guembes-Buchanan seems far too timid, too careful, and too uncertain. The music is under her fingers for sure, but this piece requires a lot more than that. It’s as if the interspersed dialog with Murr and Kreisler is being highlighted by artificial contrivance, “now comes Murr, now comes Kreisler”, hitting us over the head with it with pauses and undue phrase emphasis. The music still sounds and to some degree moves us as well, but compared with artists like Clara Würtz and Martha Argerich one easily sees what is lacking. The sound in this 2005 recording is much more vibrant and alive than the Hoffman sonatas.
So anyone wanting the Hoffman has little choice, and this is really not a bad one. But the Schumann should be sampled elsewhere as well.
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich