ROBERT SCHUMANN: Etudes symphonique; Fantasy in C; Faschingsschwank aus Wien; Kinderszenen – John Lill, p. – Greenpro {Vinyl Review}

by | May 23, 2005 | Special Features | 0 comments

ROBERT SCHUMANN: Etudes symphonique; Fantasy in C Op. 17;
Faschingsschwank aus Wien Op. 26; Kinderszenen Op. 15 – John Lill,
piano – Greenpro 4001 & 2 (2 discs), 75:50 ****:

This is our only classical vinyl this time, but it is a very special
effort from leading recording engineer Tony Faulkner. He has been
interviewed in Hi-Fi News and elsewhere on his reservations about
digital recording and how he obtained a couple of used Studer A80
master open reel tape recorders, had them tweaked by Tim de Paravicini,
and is using them to record material such as this album in both analog
and digital formats. The digital master was used to produce a CD for
Music for Pleasure, while the analog tapes are the sources of this
double-LP on Tony’s own label – Green Room Productions.

I didn’t have the CD for comparison, but Hi-Fi News found that the
piano had greater sustain and carrying power on the analog recording –
the digital in comparison sounding leaden and lacking brilliance and
sparkle. There was more of a 3D realism with the analog. I remember a
listening session at an audiophile society shortly after the compact
disc came out. Many of us agreed that though there were some problems
with strings and human voice, piano reproduction was better than vinyl
due to the rock-steady pitch accuracy of the digital clock system. This
is due to the ability to easily hear wow, flutter and other pitch
artifacts most easily in piano music. Surprisingly, in the Hi-Fi News
comparison, the analog tapes beat out the digital in spite of this. Of
course if the vinyl pressings or your turntable are not up to snuff
pitch variations may come into play in final playback. I heard not a
hint of instability, and I am both highly sensitive to it, plus I have
no “AC flywheel” gadget on my SOTA turntable anymore (lost in moving).

Pianist John Lill has had a concert career of over 50 years and is
regarded as the leading British classical pianist of his generation. He
decided to do an all-Schumann album, opening with the fairly well-known
Fantasy in C and closing with the very familiar Schumann standard piano
suite, Scenes of Childhood – played by many piano students. However
simple these 13 piece may seem, it takes a major artist to bring the
miniatures to life in a fresh manner. Lill does this superbly with
subtle phrasing and dynamics that elevate the music above the
commonplace.
The Fantasy embodied themes which to Schumann suggested the difficult
years when Clara Wieck’s father (and Schumann’s teacher) forbade him to
see her. He told Clara later the first movement described a deep
longing for her. The second is a brisk march with a big finish and the
third surprisingly a quiet and dreamy 13-minute ending statement.

But the unusual selection here is the rarely-heard Faschingsschwank au
Wein (Carnival Jest from Vienna). It is a suite like the Scenes of
Childhood, but has only five sections and the first of them over nine
minutes long. These are character pieces like the longer suite, but
have normal titles such as Allegro, Scherzino and Finale. Most are
boldly exuberant and lighthearted in nature, with the Intermezzo a
glorious lyrical miniature that might be a Schumann lied. Lill was
especially taken with this little suite, which he said he had never
played publicly before. However, his interpretation reveals great
passion, and the notes report that he played it from memory! The notes
for this double-LP album cover the three faces of the album aside from
the front cover. They include an essay on Schumann and the three works,
the feature from Hi-Fi News titled Back to Analog, a Martin Colloms
column from the same publication on the technical side of the
production, and finally a bio of pianist John Lill. This album appears
to support Faulkner’s allegations that analog recording and mastering
to vinyl can still outshine the latest digital process on standard CD!

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