SCHUMANN Symphonic Etudes Pletnev

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ROBERT SCHUMANN

Symphonische Etüden
Symphonic Etudes op. 13

Fantasie C-dur · in C major
op. 17

Bunte Blätter op. 99 Nos. 4 - 8

Arabeske op. 18
Mikhail Pletnev
Int. Release 01 Mar. 2004
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CD DDD 0289 474 8132 4 GH


Mikhail Pletnev is . . . a pianist of extraordinary range, combining technical showmanship with refined lyrical expression.

. . . an ambitiously broad account, epic in scale, hugely malleable, melting or powerful to the touch and with much exquisitely observed detail.

. . . the C major "Fantasy" played here with all the effortless elegance and depth of feeling that have made Mikhail Pletnev's considerable reputation. The red meat of the disc lies in the huge, sprawling "Symphonic Studies", Op. 13, in which the Russian virtuoso lends his own intuitive musicianship to the various incomplete and posthumous versions. A sprightly canter through the famous "Arabesque", following five short pieces from the "Bunte Blätter", rounds off a truly distinguished disc.

Mikhail Pletnev proves himself a consummate Schumann interpreter, demonstrating both a formidable technique and an ability to create poetry on the wing. In the Etudes Symphoniques, phenomenally difficult figuration is thrown off with a deftness and delicacy that defy belief. There is power, too, when needed, in the more martial variations, but it is the spirit of fantasy that characterises Pletnev's playing. The Arabeske, five of the Bunte Blätter and the Op 17 Fantasie itself are all delivered with extraordinary freshness of inspiration. No names, but certain established Schumann specialists sound leaden by comparison.

Throughout this exceptional disc of some of Schumann's best-known piano works, there are abundant instances where Pletnev seems to be inspired on the spur of the moment in performances that have a wonderful sense of impromptu invention. Yet at the same time the coherence of the structure and the grasp of the overall picture attest to sound preparation and thought. However much Pletnev might claim to rely on spontaneity, this playing speaks of intelligence and stylistic respect as well as mercurial impulse. The "Études symphoniques" op. 13 show this potent mix to perfection. Pletnev's secure dazzling technique is allied to a palette of tonal colour that has ear-catching subtlety and variety. The sweep of the C major Fantasie op. 17 is rapturous, the delicate interludes heart-stoppingly reflective, the march extraordinary in the range of expression that Pletnev brings to it. The five "Albumblätter" . . . and the "Arabeske" op. 18 cap a disc that fuses insight and originality to utterly absorbing effect.

. . . prepare to be blown away by Mikhail Pletnev's new recital. The big pieces, "Symphonic Etudes" and "Fantasy in C major", haven't received such convincingly tempestuous treatment in at least 30 years.

Among the younger generation of concert pianists, few have a more vivid imagination than Mikhail Pletnev. The Russian artist also has the capacity to connect the contrasting moods of Schumann's "Etudes symphoniques" to create a work of overwhelming emotional depth. His playing here and in the impassioned Fantaisie is never routine, always rich in expression and subtle in shading. Pletnev's inspired music is complemented by Deutsche Grammophon's warm recorded sound.

Mikhail Pletnev is one of the most original and imaginative pianists today, sometimes inspired, sometimes perverse . . . the most wonderful cantabile playing . . . excellent.

. . . this is one of today's master pianists, and while his effortless virtuosity cannot fail to draw attention, it is used above all to realise a vision of the music which is unconventional but genuine. The "Etudes symphoniques" are strong and massive, and the principal tune of the "Arabesque" is caressed so sweetly that the notes flit by like shadows . . . 'fantastical throughout'.

Anyone lucky enough to have heard the recital by Mikhail Pletnev that opened Lincoln Center's Great Performers series last fall knows he is the keyboard's reigning mystic. His new album, "Pletnev Plays Schumann," reveals him at his brooding best.

Die makellos und in unzähliger Variabilität Tonrundungen produzierenden Finger waren wie ein Rührfix, der ... diese taumelige, von himmelhochjauchzend-zu-Tode-betrübte Musik in einer Art sanftem Auskühlen und stillem Nachsinnen vermittelte... Eine romantische Meditation auf höchstem technischen Niveau...

Eine bessere Schumann-Platte ist seit langem nicht erschienen . . . die Musik klar und frisch aus den Tasten gezaubert . . .

Der russische Weltklasse-Pianist Mikhail Pletnev fasziniert mit seinem unbestechlichen, wachen und konzentrierten Blick auf den Notentext. Seine Magie ist nicht der exquisit weiche, warme Ton, sondern das Ausloten von Grenzbereichen . . . So einem liegt natürlich (auch) Schumann. Weil Pletnev Romantiker genug ist, um Bögen zu bauen und dramatische Ausbrüche zu zelebrieren, aber andererseits auch distanziert genug, um Schumanns Vielstimmigkeit nicht einem wuchernden Klang-Gewaber zu opfern.

Wahre Wunder an Stimmenverpflechtungen macht er mit seiner Kunst der Farbgebung hörbar, und dem orchestralen Habitus von Schumanns Klaviermusik bleibt er nichts schuldig. Die sinfonischen Variationen werden so zu einer höchst abwechslungsreichen Geschichte, während die C-Dur-Fantasie in ungeahnte Bereiche der Emotionalität vorstösst. Interpretation: beim Wort genommen.

Schumanns Klaviermusik gehört zum Anspruchvollsten; Mikhail Pletnev, dessen Spielweise in der Regel eher polarisiert, dürfte es mit seiner neuen CD gelingen, ungeteilten Beifall zu erringen. Denn diese Aufnahme verbindet Leidenschaftlich-Virtuoses und Lyrisch-Romantisches in dem vom Komponisten intendierten Kontrast.

Mit Stilgefühl, pianistisch perfekt, macht er in den "Etudes symphoniques" mit dem Ernst, was der Titel besagt. So fügen sich die Teile in einem alles überwölbenden Bogen zu einem "sinfonischen" Ganzen. Nichts artet in reinen Klavierlärm aus. In der C-Dur-Fantasie fasziniert auch die Kunst klanglicher Feinzeichnung.

Nun spielt er für die Deutsche Grammophon und hat eine Schumann-Sammlung vorgelegt, die man in der Deutung getrost als exemplarisch bezeichnen kann . . . sehr extravagant . . . mit pianistischer Grandezza . . .

Ein aufregendes Schweifen durch bizarre Klangwelten, abseits des gewohnten Großvirtuosentums.

Pletnev kann nicht nur beim Spielen denken; er kann seine Gedanken auch hörbar machen. Selbst Bekanntem wie den Etüden gewinnt er so noch nie wahrgenommene Aspekte ab. Da erklingen Imitationen in Nebenstimmen, die zuvor stets im Klangbrei untergingen . . . Selten gab's auf CD einen so klangstarken, so voll tönenden Flügel -- mit munteren, sagenhaft kräftigen Bässen und brillanten Höhen.

Der russische Pianist ist ein Zweifler, skeptisch gegenüber hergebrachten Gewissheiten, selbst wenn die Partitur sie herbringt. Pletnev nimmt sich Freiheiten, vor allem bei den Tempi. Gewaltige Pausen gliedern die Architektur der Fantasie und unterstreichen den rhapsodischen Charakter des Werkes. Pletnevs fast aufreizend großzügige Rubati erinnern an das Schumann-Spiel Cortots, sind aber weniger romantische Gefühlswallung, sondern stets präzis in den Gesamtplan gebettet -- so wenn Pletnev in den Sinfonischen Etüden den polternden Übermut des Finalthemas dämpft und durch versonnen zögerliche Einschnitte die Gebrochenheit des Jubels mitdenkt. Es ist auch diese Widersprüchlichkeit, die an Pletnevs Einspielung so fasziniert: Einerseits die Sehnsucht nach der fast altmodisch ausladenden Geste, andererseits Zurückhaltung vor allzu Kraftmeierndem. Ein echtes Forte, ein Fortissimo gar, bieten seine kontrollierten Deutungen selten. Dafür entfaltet er -- unterstützt von einer hervorragenden Klangtechnik -- eine Fülle farblicher und dynamischer Nuancen, die einem fast den Atem nimmt. Allein seine Interpretation der populären Arabeske ließe in dieser Hinsicht manchen Kollegen vor Neid erblassen.

La sobresaliente labor de Pletnev justifica con creces que en ocasiones arrincone la batuta para brindarnos momentos tan gratos como los aquí recogidos.

In elk geval heb ik nog nooit een pianist gehoord die zo volledig in Schumanns fantasie opgaat als Mikhail Pletnev. Meer nog dan in de concertzaal, verdwijnt Pletnev, niet langer door het publiek gehinderd, in een andere wereld.
    Background Information

Mikhail Pletnev, one of today's most inspirational pianists, features on three new discs for Deutsche Grammophon that display his talents as soloist, duo partner, and chamber musician - and more.

Pletnev's first recording of solo piano music by Robert Schumann centres on two of the composer's best-loved major works, the Etudes symphoniques op. 13 and the Fantasy in Cmajor, op.17. The Albumblätter (from Bunte Blätter op.99) and the Arabeske, op.18, complete the disc. Pletnev's virtually improvisatory style suits Schumann's arch-romanticism to perfection, enabling him to get right under the composer's skin and bring out to the full the intensely personal qualities of the Fantasy, the imaginative beauties of the short works and the vividly contrasted characters of the variations in the Etudes symphoniques. “Let by intuition," as he says, Pletnev has elected to include Nos. 5 and 1 of the posthumously published “extra" variations, inserting them in place of Variation 8. He has also omitted certain repeats in the longer, slower variations, bringing a greater concision and sense of balance to the work as a whole. With Pletnev's stunning pianism combined with his unique imagination and total emotional commitment, this disc is certain to thrill his countless fans the world over.

Next, in a dream partnership, Pletnev joins forces with the great Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich for a disc of four-hand arrangements of ballet music: the piano duet version of the suite from Ravel's fairy-tale ballet Ma mère l'Oye (Mother Goose) is paired with Pletnev's own two-pianos arrangement - created specially for Argerich and himself to perform together - of nine numbers from Prokofiev's Cinderella. Inspired by the respect and admiration between himself and Argerich after their first musical collaboration three years ago, Pletnev has reimagined and virtually recomposed Prokofiev's music; the result is simul-taneously a tribute and a flight of fantasy. Pletnev and Argerich work a joint magic in which their playing evokes all the magical colours of a full orchestra. The two pianists recorded the disc in just one intensive night-time session.

Pletnev has long championed the music of his compatriot Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915) - he recorded the composer's cantata John of Damascus three years ago, conducting the Russian National Orchestra. Now, following a stunning collaboration at the prestigious Verbier Festival, he has committed the Piano Quintet op. 30 and Piano Trio op. 22 to disc with the violinists Vadim Repin and Ilya Gringolts, violist Nobuko Imai and cellist Lynn Harrell.

    Mikhail Pletnev plays Schumann

Schumann's Symphonic Etudes have become such a favourite among pianists and listeners alike that it is easy to forget the work's startling originality and its unique place in the composer's output. It stretches the pianist's technique - the “etude" element - while also stretching the instrument and its range of sonority and colour in ways that far surpass Schumann's earlier effort in variation form (his op.1 “Abegg" Variations) - the “symphonic" element, suggesting the transformation of a solo piano into a full orchestra. Although the influence of Schumann's idol, Beethoven, makes a powerful contribution, no keyboard work before had explicitly set out to bring these elements together.

Its relatively strict form - a theme and variations crowned by a celebratory finale - is not typical of Schumann, much of whose piano music is intimately bound up with literary associations from the writings of E.T.A. Hoffmann and Jean Paul. The contrasting alter-egos Schumann had invented for himself, representing opposing forces in his music - the dreamily introvert “Eusebius" and the tumultuously extrovert “Florestan" - are nevertheless present, lurking in the piece's earlier history. Its original title, in the first edition (1837), was “Etüden im Orchestercharakter für Pianoforte von Florestan und Eusebius", and the character of each variation can easily be linked to these two distinct personalities. The work is tied in other ways, too, to Schumann's emotional life, since the theme itself was apparently written by the father of Ernestine von Fricken, who was briefly Schumann's fiancée.

The work continued to haunt Schumann long after its publication, and in 1852 he reworked it into a second, more concise version under a new title, “Etudes en formes de variations": this has become the more frequently performed and recorded of its two incarnations. To complicate matters still further, the 1834 manuscript also includes five variations which Schumann eventually decided to excise from the piece; they were not published until 1873. Inevitably a dilemma for pianists exists over whether or not to include those “extra" variations. For this recording Mikhail Pletnev has elected to add two of them, Nos. 5 and 1, placing them after Variation VII in place of Variation VIII, a sequence that he finds musically particularly convincing.

“Yesterday I received your wonderful Fantasy," wrote Clara Wieck to Robert Schumann on 23 May 1839. “Today I am still half ill with rapture." Few works by even such an arch-romantic as Schumann are capable of eliciting so intense an emotional impact as the op.17 Fantasy. Written at the time when Clara's father, Friedrich Wieck, was determined to keep his daughter - who already had a flourishing career as a teenaged piano prodigy - away from the unstable, erratic composer who was in love with her, it represented a direct form of communication of Schumann's passion for Clara. Forbidden to see her, he could assure her of his feelings only through music. The couple eventually married on 12 September 1840, the day before Clara's 21st birthday.

The Fantasy is packed with references both musical and extra-musical. Schumann envisaged this major three-movement creation as a tribute to Beethoven - whose two op. 27 sonatas, marked “quasi una fantasia", are, along with Schubert's “Wanderer" Fantasy, its most obvious predecessors. There is a direct quotation from Beethoven at the end of the first movement, which returns at the end of the work - appropriately enough, a melody from the song cycle An die ferne Geliebte (“To the distant beloved"). Schumann had also created a musical “cipher" to stand for Clara herself - the melody of five falling stepwise notes that opens the Fantasy - which he embedded in countless works.

Turning traditional sonata form virtually inside out, Schumann's Fantasy parts company with earlier models. The rhapsodic opening movement, marked “to be played with real imagination and passion" [Durchaus phantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen], is full of tempo shifts, fragmentations, and silences that create an entirely personal world of emotions. The second movement, in ternary form, is a triumphant march. Coming last, the slow movement is a love song, among the most beautiful that Schumann ever created (and there were many), drawing the work to a rapt, ecstatic conclusion.

The five Albumblätter (Album Leaves) form part of a series of short pieces entitled Bunte Blätter, published as Schumann's op. 99. The volume brings together a number of pieces for piano that Schumann composed at different times: of the Albumblätter, the first dates from 1841, Nos. 2 and 5 from 1838 and No. 3 from 1836, and No. 4 from 1839. The first piece, a simple, sombre work that bears a strong resemblance to the theme of the Symphonic Etudes, was used by both Clara Schumann and the Schumanns' devoted young disciple Johannes Brahms as the basis for sets of variations - Brahms wrote his op. 9 set as a tribute and birthday gift to Schumann while the older composer was confined to the mental hospital at Endenich near Bonn, where he later died. The second piece is a wild, witchlike snippet originally named “Fata Morgana"; and the waltz-like character of the third betrays its origin as part of Carnaval, in which Schumann decided ultimately not to include it. No. 4 originally carried the title “Jugendschmerz" - the pain of youth - something Schumann knew a thing or two about; and the last piece has a wistful, songlike character that brings to mind Schumann's Kinderszenen and many of his Lieder.

Schumann's Arabeske is one of his finest examples of “Hausmusik" - pieces intended to be performed in the home. It dates, like the Fantasy and Kreisleriana, from 1838, but in place of the tempestuous emotions evident in those larger and more virtuosic works, it inhabits a calm, more domesticated world. Schumann appears to have been the first composer to use “arabesque" as a title - it was later taken up by Debussy, among others - and the music amply mirrors the word's suggestion of visual ornamentation: its main theme is characteristically decorated by grace notes and its texture is richly layered. The gracious, steadily rhythmic opening theme is contrasted with a more playful episode before returning via a passage of exceptional exploratory beauty. But perhaps the most enthralling moment is an extraordinary coda that lifts this otherwise rather cosy piece into those visionary, otherworldly realms in which Schumann was habitually at his finest.

Jessica Duchen

    Mikhail Pletnev - Chronology

The pianist, conductor, and composer Mikhail Pletnev is an “all-round" musician who defies categorization. He was born in Archangel, Russia, in 1957. His parents were both musicians, and Pletnev displayed exceptional musical talent from an early age. When he was 13, he began to study the piano at the Moscow Conservatory with the famous pianists and teachers Jacob Flier and Lev Vlasenko. In 1978, Pletnev won the Gold Medal at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow. As a result he was able to make concert tours outside the former Soviet Union throughout Europe, Japan, the USA, and Israel. Over the years Pletnev has also appeared as soloist with Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony and Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestras, Lorin Maazel and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Kent Nagano and the Hallé Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and others.

1980       While still pursuing his career as an international concert pianist, Pletnev makes his début as a conductor in the former Soviet Union.
1988 Invited by President Mikhail Gorbachev to perform at the superpower summit in Washington.
1989 The collapse of the Soviet system gives Pletnev the historic opportunity to realize his long-held dream of forming an independent orchestra. He founds the Russian National Orchestra, which, under his leadership, soon achieves international recognition. In the coming years he also appears as guest conductor abroad with such major organizations as the Philharmonia, London Symphony Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
1990 The RNO under Pletnev becomes the first Russian orchestra to perform at the Vatican, in a private concert for Pope John Paul II. Shortly afterwards it becomes the first Russian orchestra to tour Israel. Since then the ensemble has appeared in the United States, Asia, and Europe, as well as at international music festivals from Lucerne to Edinburgh.
1993 Signs exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon.
1994 First DG releases: Rachmaninov's Second Symphony and The Rock; Tchaikovsky's Manfred and The Tempest.
1995 Honoured by President Yeltsin with Russia's First State Prize for his services to music.
1996 RNO and Pletnev tour the Far East in May and June and afterwards perform at the inaugural concert of the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
1997 Takes part in the New Year's Eve concert in Berlin with the Berliner Philharmoniker Orchestra under Claudio Abbado. Chopin disc issued, Pletnev's first solo recital on DG - hailed as “Record of the Year" by the influential German critic and piano expert Joachim Kaiser.
1998 Pletnev is also an active composer. The highly successful world première of his Viola Concerto takes place in Moscow, with Yuri Bashmet as soloist and the RNO under Pletnev's baton.
1999 Appointed Conductor Laureate of the Russian National Orchestra, and in this position continues his collaboration with the RNO as conductor and pianist. Receives rave reviews for his Beethoven and Rachmaninov performances under Slatkin and Ashkenazy in London.
2000 Carnegie Hall Recital début is recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon and released the following year, when it wins the Echo Award. Performs with Claudio Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker at the Europa Konzert 2000, televised and broadcast worldwide from the Philharmonie. Acclaimed for performances of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody with the National Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin in Washington DC and on tour throughout Europe. Invited to perform as soloist under Long Yu in Beijing in December at the inaugural concert of the newly established China Philharmonic Orchestra.
2001 Appears as soloist with Kent Nagano and the UBS Verbier Festival Youth Orchestra and with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic on tour in Moscow. His interpretations of Beethoven's complete Piano Concertos with Christoph von Dohnányi and the Philharmonia Orchestra are acclaimed in London in November.
2002 Honoured by President Putin with Russia's First State Prize for his services to music. Pletnev's latest solo recital recording with sonatas by C. P. E. Bach receives the Edison Award and Diapason d'Or. World première with Martha Argerich of Mikhail Pletnev's own transcription for two pianos of the suite from Prokofiev's ballet Cinderella at the “Lugano Festival Martha Argerich Project". Recording of Rachmaninov's and Prokofiev's Third Piano Concertos in Moscow with the Russian National Orchestra conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich.
2003 Appointed Artistic Director of the Russian National Orchestra. Far East recital tour and performances of the complete Beethoven Piano Concertos with the Tokyo Phiharmonic Orchestra in June. Festival solo appearances this summer include Orange, Verbier, Edinburgh, La Roque d'Anthéron, Ruhr, and Rheingau. In November and December: performances of Rachmaninov concertos in England (with the Philharmonia) and Stockholm (with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra). Deutsche Grammophon recordings this year, for release in 2004 and 2005, include a Schumann programme, the Piano Quintet and Piano Trio of Sergei Taneyev (with Vadim Repin, Ilya Gringolts, Nobuko Imai, and Lynn Harrell), and, in a historic collaboration with Martha Argerich, Ravel's Ma Mère l'Oye and Pletnev's two-piano transcription of Prokofiev's Cinderella suite.
2004 Plans for the first half of the year already include solo recitals in Stuttgart, Vienna (Konzerthaus), New York (Carnegie Hall), Genoa, Turin, Amsterdam (Concertgebouw), London (Festival Hall), Milan, Ferrara, Baden-Baden, and Zurich; concerts in Stockhom conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; a tour of Portugal, Spain, Italy, the UK, Germany, and Switzerland conducting the Russian National Orchestra; and concert appearances in London (with the LSO under Pappano) and Rome (with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra under Chung).