SCHUMANN: Waldszenen, Op. 82; Piano Sonata No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22; Gesaenge der Fruehe, Op. 133 – Mitsuko Uchida, p. – Decca B0018951-02, 59:15 [Distr. by Universal] (9/17/13) ****:
Mitsuko Uchida, who ranks among the foremost virtuosos and interpreters of Schumann, recorded this latest excursion into the arch-Romantic’s oeuvre 28 May – 1 June 2013. She addresses one relatively early work, the G Minor Piano Sonata and two relatively late opera, the 1848 Waldszenen and Schumann’s final keyboard piece, his Songs of Dawn of 1854. A resourceful colorist, Uchida certainly packs the technical equipment to perform virtually anything in the keyboard canon, and she has a great sympathy for Schumann. Clarity of line and scintillating velocity of execution add to her formidable arsenal, so devotees of Schumann will gravitate to these performances.
Uchida opens with the nine pieces that form Schumann’s Forest Scenes, which originally bore poetic commentary; only the fourth (“Place of Evil Repute”) retains a sinister quote from Friedrich Hebbel, to the effect that one red flower among many pale ones draws its color from human blood. That piece, set in contrapuntal motion, weaves a twisted path that permits little light. Framed by an Eintritt and an Abschied, the set seems self-enclosed and reflexive, alluding to hunting horns and magical forest sights and sounds. The dark movement moves immediately into Freundliche Landschaft, a bright-path counterpart that displays Uchida’s quicksilver figuration. The famous Vogel als Prophet, the last of the set to be composed, skitters and flits in broken phrases, delicately poised by Uchida. The Jagdlied or Hunting Song generates an energy beholden both to the Silesian author Heinrich Laube and Carl Maria von Weber. I admire Uchida here, but my favorite recorded performance remains that of Robert Casadesus. The “Farewell,” however, balances poetry and meditation beautifully, an Uchida moment that justifies the admission price.
The poetry of Justinus Kerner provides some of the impetus to Schumann’s virile 1833-1835 G Minor Sonata, the very piece a young Lucy Hickenlooper (aka Olga Samaroff) launched into in Paris to establish that American pianists do not have thin blood in their veins. The first movement, perhaps meant ironically, demands every faster tempos from the executant, and Uchida obliges, often in explosive dynamics. If the texture thin out as the movement progresses, the feverish intensity does not diminish. The Andantino movement finds its poetic counterpart in Im Herbste of Kerner, in which Eusebius has his moment after the Dionysiac revels of Florestan in movement one. The transparent, even transient, effect of the gossamer approach Uchida applies makes us think we try to catch a magic vapor in the air. Then, the heavy syncopes of the brief Scherzo intrude, a rollicking reality. Schumann replaced his original, ferocious finale Presto passionato with what he deemed “accorded well” with the sonata’s opening movement. But to claim Schumann abandoned his “dizzying” predilection for keyboard virtuosity would be naïve. His new finale Rondo: Presto presents its own hurdles in velocity and articulation, especially in right-hand broken octaves. Twice, a lyrical episode relieves the tension, only to yield, Prestissimo, to a cadenza that rushes the piece to a final judgment meant to illustrate the acclaimed bravura of young Clara Wieck.
For his final venture into keyboard music, Schumann conceived of five movements based on a figure from Hoelderlin, his Diotima, a poetic muse whose name also figures in Plato. The set of Songs of Dawn (Schumann’s having rejected An Diotima as his title) find a frame in D Major for the first and last pieces. The bareness of No. 1 prefigures some of Liszt’s late piano pieces. A kind of chromatic chorale marks the second piece, moving later into a scherzino affect. A heavy dotted rhythm establishes the third piece, a combination of Wagner’s Valkyries and Liszt’s C Minor Wilde Jagd etude. The fourth piece, Bewegt (Tumultuous), moves in slow motion despite its swirling motifs. Some sweetly pearly arpeggios flow forth in the course of this hypnotic eddy. If any selection compliments Uchida’s tone, this work does. The final movement consciously seeks peace and consolation, the texture quite close to Bach in mode and insistent temperament. The last bars fade into dreamy ethereality, that eternal nostalgia that permeates almost every measure of this tender composer.
[The Amazon link is to an MP3 file because they don’t have the CD…Ed.]