Robert Schumann, Kreisleriana & Etudes Symphoniques

Most of Robert Schumann's best works for piano were composed in the decade between his twentieth and thirtieth birthdays, after his own prowess as a pianist was permanently crippled by a self-inflicted finger injury (he used a clumsy contrivance with which he tried to strengthen the fourth finger of his right hand). His interest in keyboard virtuosity then declined in favour of a more poetic style, less ornate than either Chopin or Liszt, and with more facility in variation-form and the like than in the larger sonata structures.
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"Nick van Bloss plays a dominantly poetic Schumann, with fine colours and a very clear and transparent piano sound."

I’ve been impressed by all of Nick van Bloss’s recordings, the latest of which was a superlative Diabelli Variations. Van Bloss’s opening in Kreisleriana is emblematic of his approach throughout this programme. Brilliant technique and sublime musicianship is applied to these scores combined with an almost defiant will to avoid hamming things up and turning the music into a chocolate-box relic of a bygone age. Shaping of phrases and expression are of course both present, but there is little in the way of added and arguably artificial rubato within movements. This is a refreshingly straightforward approach which takes nothing away from an effective communication of Schumann’s voice, and indeed has a tendency to strip away that extra layer of interpretation which can at times get in the way of the piece.

There is no lack of drama in Kreisleriana, and the contrasts in the second movement Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch have just about everything. The intimacy here is heartfelt without being sentimental, and the central whirlwind, while like an entirely different piece, is also nicely in proportion and like the energy cell which makes the rest of the movement simmer with hidden passions. That sense of deep romantic desire while having to retain respectability in polite society is all over Nick van Bloss’s performance, in a work composed before Schumann was finally able to marry his Clara, but with “you and the thought of you” uppermost in his mind.

There are plenty of technical fireworks along the way, and this is as fine a display of pianism as you will find anywhere.

Dominy Clements,

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