Included in the list of composers whose anniversaries are celebrated this year are two of the greatest and best loved masters of the Romantic Era, Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann, both born 200 years ago. It is only good business then for recording companies to issue and re-issue fine performances to feed, they hope, the heightened demand for the birthday boys’ music.
First up is Chopin (March 1) whose entire published works fit nicely on 16 or 17 CDs. The absolute pick of the packages comes from Deutsche Grammophon (4778445, 17 CDs) which also happens to be at an attractive price, particularly for German pressings. Every opus number is represented here in excellent to superlative performances. One could not hope for a better group of artists, mainly pianists, of course, than DG has assembled from their own catalogue plus Decca and Philips. Krystian Zimerman’s acclaimed 1999 performances of the two piano concertos with the Polish Festival Orchestra are on the first disc. Zimerman is heard again in the Ballades. Claudio Arrau is the soloist in the other concerted works. Maurizio Pollini plays the Etudes, the Polonaises, the Scherzos and the 2nd and 3rd Sonatas. Maria João Pires plays all the Nocturnes and Vladimir Ashkenazy plays the complete Mazurkas, the Waltzes, and a host of miscellaneous pieces. The Beaux Arts Trio plays (you’ve guessed it) the Trio in G minor. Also heard from are Anatol Ugorski, Martha Argerich, Lilya Zilberstein, Yundi Li, Mstislav Rostropovich, Anner Bylsma, and others including Polish soprano Elzbieta Szmytka in the songs. The reasonably informative booklet includes a brief chronological table of Chopin’s life, plus recording data. All in all, this is a most pleasing and very recommendable collection.
Robert Schumann was born in Saxony on June 8, 1810 and his output was many times that of his Polish contemporary including compositions in every form. Don’t expect to see a “complete” edition from any of the majors but new compilations have appeared this year from DG and Sony, neither of which I have seen or heard. EuroArts has issued a Blu-ray disc of on earlier DVD featuring Martha Argerich playing the Schumann Piano Concerto with Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester (EA2055494). Recorded “live” in June 2006 the Blu-ray disc presents the entire concert, adding the opening work, the Adagio and Allegro brillante from Etudes Symphoniques op.13, orchestrated by Tchaikovsky. The concerto emerges as an inspired collaboration between soloist and orchestra, without peer in this medium for sensitivity and intelligence. For an encore Argerich plays Of Foreign Lands and People from Kinderszenen, op.15. Following the intermission, the orchestra plays Ravel’s orchestration for Nijinsky of four pieces from Carnaval, op.9 followed by an enthusiastic and vital performance of the Fourth Symphony. The dynamics throughout are effortlessly true-to-life, making this a you-are-there experience.
There is also a Schumann Fourth in a new boxed set from Profil featuring the late Günter Wand conducting the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in performances between April 1993 and April 1996 (PH09068, 8 CDs). One of the succession of famous conductors and music directors that has endowed this world-class orchestra - founded in 1946 by the American Forces in Berlin as the RIAS Symphony Orchestra - with a proud heritage, Wand looked beyond the printed score. His performances reflect the deepest commitment and focus so that it appears, at least to this listener, that in performance nothing exists but the composer’s creation. His Schumann unfolds organically with steady tempos and a true pulse. Amply dynamic, it is elegantly detailed and unusually compelling. So are three Beethoven Symphonies, one, three and four; Brahms First and Fourth; Bruckner’s Fifth and Ninth; and Schubert’s Eighth and Ninth. Brilliantly recorded, these are all from Wand’s favoured composers and his signature is on each one.
In addition to the revelatory DVD My Life and Music that traces Günter Wand’s life including his last interview (RCA 828766388893, 2 DVDs), there are two essential 4 DVD Wand sets from TDK containing live Festival performances of Bruckner’s Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Ninth, Haydn’s 76th and the Schubert Eighth (TDK cowandbox1) and Leonore III, Bruckner Fourth, Schubert Five, Eight and Nine, and Brahms First (TDK cowandbox2). The late master at work!
But back to Schumann... Music and Arts has issued an inspired two CD set containing historic recordings with three performances each of two song cycles from 1840, Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und -leben (CD-1235). Dichterliebe is heard firstly by Aksel Schiøtz, the Danish tenor who recorded this cycle with Gerald Moore in 1946 just months before a necessary surgery left his face partially paralysed. Swiss baritone Charles Panzera is accompanied by Alfred Cortot in a 1935 recording that was, for many collectors, the criterion... yet Gerhard Hüsch, the German baritone, accompanied by Hanns Udo Müller, having the advantage of singing in his native tongue, sounds the most comfortable and expressive with Heine’s texts. Frauenliebe und –leben with texts by Adalbert von Chamisso is for female voice. Three singers, each indisputably legendary in the very best sense of the word, are each so individual in style that comparisons would indeed be odious. Here is Lotte Lehmann live in recital with Paul Ulanowsky in New York in 1946 and contralto Marian Anderson with Franz Rupp in 1950. Finally, Kathleen Ferrier is heard live at the Edinburgh Festival in 1949 accompanied by... no in collaboration with... her mentor, Bruno Walter. Excellent transfers make listening a pleasure. Comprehensive liner notes are included.