Nicholas Roth plays ROBERT SCHUMANN: Humoreske, Op. 20; 8 Novellettes, Op. 21 – Nicholas Roth, piano – Blue Griffin BGR 321, 75:11 (4/8/14) [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Nicholas Roth, a pupil of luminaries Ralph Votapek, Elisso Virsaladze, and Edward Auer, proves himself a natural exponent of the Schumann ethos in this fine recording, a combination of two distinct sessions from 2001 (Novellettes) and 11 August 2009 (Humoreske). The entirely beguiling sound of Mr. Roth’s Yamaha comes to us courtesy of producer and engineer Sergei Kvitko.
Schumann’s 1839 The Humoreske remains one of the most difficult of Schumann’s piano works to love unreservedly. The lengthy piece is episodic in a way that doesn’t provide a characteristic centrality. While structured something like a rondo, the work meanders and convulsively changes course without “classical just cause.” The lovely simplicity of the opening section (which is repeated only once, after the playfully brilliant ensuing pages) does set a mood that recurs intermittently. Schumann relies on his natural rhythmic verve, ingenuity, and tender lyricism throughout the work, all of which has strong appeal. Apparently the main theme at the beginning of the concluding section had strong appeal to Schumann, who recalled it some ten years later when writing incidental music for Byron’s Manfred. Playfulness and inwardness dominate, alternately, the progression of the piece, which has a section that iterates a five-note motif in a manner that suggests the composer’s occasionally faltering faith in the inevitability of his union with Clara Wieck. Roth’s performance of the fifth, Sehr lebhaft section, suggests what he might accomplish in the first movement of the A Minor Concerto.
Schumann created his set of “little novels” or “little novelties” in 1838 for Clara Wieck, arranging them according to his lights as a series of maerchen, or narrative fairy-tales. Once more, the rondo serves to convey their mercurial, sometimes aggressive lyricism, though Schumann’s need for formal development may splice any particular rondo to a bit of sonata-form. The Novelletten read as seamless tales that, in Schumann’s words portray funny things, Egmont stories, family scenes with fathers, a wedding, in short everything worthy of love. The dominant personae in Schumann’s musical psyche, Florestan and Eusebius, certainly take center stage. The eighth Novellette, in F-sharp Minor, is the most extensive of the set. A variety of sentiments and images appear storm, passion, light-hearted humor, quiet longing, and a voice from the distance, all presented in Schumann’s inimitable way. Love, inspiration, and a child-like fancy permeate every note as literary and musical thoughts joined in harmonious matrimony.
Rubinstein and Horowitz would occasionally sojourn into the delights and mysteries of the No. 1 in F Major and the No. 2 in D Major. The first truly potent reading of the full cycle that impressed me belonged to Beveridge Webster; and then later, to Jorg Demus. Now, Nicholas Roth adds his name to those who make persuasive love and mystery through the plastic keyboard harmonies in Robert Schumann’s oeuvre. Recommended!