SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9; Papillons, Op. 2; Davidsbuendlertaenze, Op. 6 – Boris Giltburg, piano – Naxos 8.573399, 77:11 (2/10/15) ****:
Winner of the 2013 Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels, Belgium, Boris Giltburg (b. 1984) explores (rec. 28-30 June 2014) three of Robert Schumann’s most “characteristic” suites: the 1837 Davidsbuendler Taenze; the 1831 Papillons; and the 1835 Carnaval. Each of these familiar chains of miniatures participates in Schumann’s esoteric world of literary and psychological personae. Corresponding to Clara Wieck’s Mazurka in G Major from her Op. 6, Robert Schumann fashions his Dances of the David’s-League as a quote from his inamorata’s piece and then evolves eighteen ‘tempi of initiation’ to ratify his division of personality as complementary impulses, Florestan and Eusebius.
Giltburg certainly expresses the inwardness and poetry of the occasion, basking in the falling, romance figures of No. 7 Nicht schnell. The elegant muse seems to have been defined by the No. 2 Innig, which will reappear late in the suite in the course of No. 17 Wie aus der Ferne. The potent syncopes of No. 8 Frisch never fail to renew the spirit. Giltburg realizes the poignant Balladenmassig (No. 10) with fervent bass tones. The No. 11 Einfach plays as a lyrical cross between Grieg and Scriabin. Plastic accents highlight Mit Humor (No. 12), a fleet scherzo that anticipates some of the filigree of The Prophet Bird. No. 13 Wild und lustig balances martial and fairy-tale elements. Giltburg himself calls No. 14 Zart und singend “a song without words,” a delicately poised water-piece, as he performs it. “Bridal thoughts” infiltrate the No. 15 Frisch, which rises in ceremonial and passionate arcs. The fusion of melancholy and joy colors the last two entries, the suite’s having moved into an elevated ouroboros of sorts, a waltz, with the dreamy Eusebius’ having the last word.
The inspiration for the set of Papillons belongs to Jean-Paul Richter’s 1805 novel Flegeljahre, which might be translated as “Years of Irresponsibility.” The favorite Romantic setting, the masked ball, appears in the course of the final scene of the novel, in which two brothers, Walt and Vult, love the same woman. Conceived as a series of alternate waltzes and marches, Schumann’s music flitters and cascades in aerial figures, in either cultivated or rustic colors. Giltburg’s rendition of the No. 7 Semplice and the No. 10 Vivo resonate authentically as the Schumann we cherish. The masquerade unravels after a Grandfather’s Dance and a sprightly duet, with the clock’s striking a series of chimes, alla musette, with the main waltz’s losing a note at each repetition. The six A’s in high register signify the parting of the lovers, rife with enchanted nostalgia. No wonder Tchaikovsky so admired this ingenuous suite.
Giltburg saves the ubiquitous Carnaval for last. The masked ball follows only the composer’s imagination, with his incorporating figures from the Commedia dell’arte ad libitum. The maestoso opening from Giltburg and the subsequent appearances of characters literary, fanciful, and biographical proceed with secure technique and apt poetry. Whether his rousing version will supplant your preferred Rubinstein, Kempff, Michelangeli, Casadesus, or Demus recording remains a matter of taste. For brilliance and the requisite Schumann poetry Giltburg lacks nothing, and his recording engineer Phil Rowlands has ensured us that keyboard at the legendary Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK has been faithfully inscribed.