SCHUMANN Piano Works (Uhlig)
The 11th disc in Florian Uhlig’s 15-volume survey of Schumann’s piano music concentrates on works with connections to ETA Hoffmann, the Prussian author and music critic whose stories also surface in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann. The series claims to be ‘the first genuine complete recording’ of Schumann’s works for solo piano, wherein the pianist uses the latest critical editions and each disc comes with a scholarly essay by Joachim Draheim. The repertoire is grouped thematically, based variously on genres, places of composition, dedications and associations. Not all of the connections are entirely convincing: for example, why include in the latest volume the Nachtstücke, Op 23 (more related to Jean Paul than to Hoffmann), which was composed in Vienna (Vol 4 of this series is Schumann in Vienna) and which, as Draheim notes, is more than any other work of Schumann inspired by family events (Vol 5 was related to his daughters)?
Even though Schumann habitually added titles only after the compositional process, the one undeniably Hoffmannesque work here is the eight fantasies grouped together as Kreisleriana, after Hoffmann’s Kreisler, an eccentric kapellmeister. Uhlig plays intelligently and with controlled sensitivity but his temperament is far from ideal for Schumann, and it is hard to see why he should be preferred over such classic exponents as Perahia, Argerich, Lupu, Goerner and especially Horowitz (in particular his 1969 version reissued in Sony Classical’s massive 60-disc compilation). Uhlig’s interpretations are literal and emotionally mid-range, lacking the artistic presence, multi-layered sound design and the magical flights of imagination of Horowitz’s mercurial renditions. His sound, while pleasant enough in quieter lyrical episodes, tends to stridency at higher dynamic levels. The final piece, which conveys a demonically intensifying threat in Horowitz’s hands, is merely lilting in Uhlig’s.
As with Kreisleriana, the Fantasiestücke provide an arena for Schumann’s twin alter egos. The interaction between Florestan (extrovert and explosive) and Eusebius (introvert and dreamy) is captured to perfection in Richter’s (admittedly incomplete) 1957 recording, in spite of its clattery sound quality. By comparison, Uhlig is too calculated and controlled, giving us a Florestan determined to impress rather than going wild, and a Eusebius more dreary than dreamy.
Emotional neutrality continues in the opening funeral procession of Nachtstücke. Try Schiff for a proper differentiation between suffering and exaltation, between hallucination and dreaminess.