SCHOENBERG Works for piano
If this were a Gramophone Collection survey of Schoenberg’s piano music, and I’d already discussed the relative merits, or otherwise, of Glenn Gould and Maurizio Pollini – Gould playing the piano well but missing the music, Pollini’s intellectual and technical genius dealing more equitably with Schoenberg’s challenges – I’d still be tempted to hand the ultimate top-choice accolade to this new cycle by the French pianist Florent Boffard.
Schoenberg’s piano music is a problem. No question about that. The serial Fünf Klavierstücke, Op 23, and Suite für Klavier, Op 25 – but not the freely atonal Drei Klavierstücke, Op 11, and Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke, Op 19 – have the feel of an artist throwing paint at a canvas who never steps back to look at the results. That Schoenberg was, of course, painfully concerned with results makes this disjoint between his musically profound workings-out and the aural results ever more inexplicable. But Boffard brings a bountiful spectrum of trompe-l’œil shadings and rhythmic nuances to music that can meander by default towards greyness and mechanistic precision. The second moment of the Fünf Klavierstücke comes with impressionistic undertones; the ‘Gigue’ in the Suite demonstrates how to fuel Schoenberg’s rhythmic momentum without sounding like you’re chopping onions.
An early set of Brahms-meets-Chopin Three Pieces ends the disc but the Drei Klavierstücke we all know establishes the mood-music: a tasteful whiff of well-applied Romanticism bumping into pumped-up hysteria. The Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke is best, though: Boffard caresses details, and creates an ambiguity of foreground and background that turns these miniatures into vast canvases of enlightened experience.