Kreisleriana; Carnaval; Piano Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp Minor; Davidsbuendlertaenze; Fantasie in C Major; Kinderszenen: Traeumerei – Walter Gieseking, p. – Andromeda (2 CDs)

SCHUMANN Piano Works = Kreisleriana, Op. 16; Carnaval, Op. 9; Piano Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 11; Davidsbuendlertaenze, Op. 6; Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17; Kinderszenen, Op. 15: Traeumerei (No. 7) – Walter Gieseking, p. – Andromeda ANDRCD 9009 (2 CDs), 79:04, 66:08 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Pianist Walter Gieseking (1895-1956) had a reputation for his phenomenal musicianship: virtually his entire EMI legacy of the complete Mozart keyboard works he sight-read at the studio. Andromeda resuscitates the Schumann radio performances Gieseking presented 1938-1947, several of which he made during WW II under National Socialist auspices for German radio. These broadcast performances have had numerous incarnations on CD, some on Italian pirate labels, some for Music&Arts. The recorded sound remains good to excellent, the keyboard playing astonishingly intense if not always accurate.

Few pianists take Schumann’s opening Agitatissimo at the manic pace Gieseking sets for his 1942 Berlin Kreisleriana. If passion and decisive bravura mark the fleet passages, like Con molto espessione, the last two pages of Molto agitato, the playful Vivace assai, and the frenzied Molto presto, the poetry co-exists in equal measure.  The two Intermezzos and the latter half of Lento assai convey the Eusebius side of Schumann’s personality with tender acumen. The lightness of touch reminds us how justly Gieseking’s repute lay in the realm of “Impressionistic” repertory. Occasionally, the sheer energy of execution smears the melodic line and accounts for any number of finger slips, aside from metric licenses. We might recall that Schumann’s 1838 Suite itself celebrates the polarity of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s eponymous musician. But the exuberance of the occasion reigns, and each of the selections testifies to a true acolyte of the composer’s idiosyncratic ethos.

The 1943 Carnaval enjoys a propulsive defiance and assertion that Gieseking’s commercial CBS LP performance lacks. The 1835 Suite literally leaps into its four-note “strategy” that defines the geographic, biographic, and psychological landscape it describes.  Gieseking plays or “assaults” the whole suite with a kind of poetic impatience, the playful and emotionally ardent sides of the composer’s personality in mock battle scenes. Typically, Gieseking’s dynamic levels can fluctuate from a most refined pianissimo to a shattering double forte. But once you hear his interior pulse in Valse noble, it becomes hard to return the “normal” performers.  Coquette’s impulsive flourishes quite erupt from the keyboard. Gieseking includes the elusive Sphinxes in long notes, here sounding the birth of Schoenberg.  Rarely has Chiarina pirouetted so violently; but neither has Chopin sounded so much like one of  the Debussy Arabesques. Pantalon and Columbine set at each other like Punch and Judy.  The usually charming Valse allemande exhibits its own tectonics before Paganini strikes with the forces of bariolage hurricane. Pause, naturally, becomes a blur, but the final March Against the Philistines has the imprimatur of a decisive blow in Cinemascope.

The 1835 Sonata No. 1 best suits Gieseking’s meteoric 1942 rendition, given the ardor of its rhetoric and its quirky sense of form. The syncopes from Gieseking in the neurotic first movement ring with dancing and galloping passions. Certainly, this has to be among the most breathless of interpretations. Yet, Gieseking finds wonderful poetry in the bass line of the ensuing Aria movement. The hectic Scherzo e Intermezzo plunges and lunges in figures attributable to Chopin, but temperamentally all Schumann.  The concluding, whimsical rondo-form Finale presents all of the psychic contraries Gieseking needs to display his own multifarious gifts, including the clarity of his polyphony, the poetic tenor of his soul, and the superhuman speed of his cascade runs and repeated notes.

The 1837 Davidsbundler Taenze serves as Schumann’s eighteen distinct “tempi of initiation” into his interior world of poetic nostalgia and emotional turmoil, rife with elements of his vast reading. Given the perpetual colloquy between Florestan and Eusebius that runs through this highly personal work, Gieseking in 1942 Berlin has fewer opportunities – except when Florestan wishes to descend into D Minor – for musical extremes but must rather tether and focus his own explosive volatility. Gieseking is not always successful in his “restraint,” as Frisch and Lebhaft certify. The Innig in B Minor, No. 2, however, defines the wonderful subjectivity That Gieseking can communicate – especially later, when Eusebius turns to G Minor – of this experience. No. 2 returns verbatim at the latter half of Wie aus der Ferne as the call of Infinite. The deliberately “bizarre” Etwas hahnbuechen does jump at us, with flitting passages of “butterflies.” Einfach (there are two) might adumbrate Scriabin. An impish wit marks Mit Humor, and a colossal vitality infuses Wild und lustig. For unfettered Romanticism, we will always have Gieseking’s Zart und singend and Frisch (No. 15).

There is some discrepancy about the 1947 recording venue for the mighty C Major Fantasie—whether it be Berlin or Frankfurt. The musical point proves more relevant, since this has to count among Gieseking’s most voluptuous outpourings, intense, vital, and often a technical maelstrom of splattered notes.  If the first movement commands a dramatic “legend,” the second movement march asserts a propulsive confidence whose syncopes glide uncannily into poetry, at least until the coda unravels.  The last movement, homage to Beethoven’s own Sonata quasi fantasia in C-sharp Minor, sets its inspired sights upon a distant star. Gieseking graduates his evolving arch by colorful, subjective degrees, finally rounding off a potent resolution. If there have been wayward moments, we might recall Paderewski’s  admonition that what remains vital is not always the written note, but what the musical effect should be.

—Gary Lemco

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