Reed Tetzloff: Schumann / Master Performers
The depth of American pianist Reed Tetzloff's grasp of Robert Schumann and his music is evident at every moment of this superb recording but also in the engrossing interview included in the release's booklet. As it clearly shows, Tetzloff's understanding of the composer is scholarly but not pedantic, and much the same could be said of his authoritative performances on the nearly eighty-minute recording. They're as distinguished by passion as precision, and one comes away from the release regarding Tetzloff as one of today's best possible interpreters of Schumann's music.
Audiences in China, Europe, and the United States have been exposed to his playing, be it in a solo recital context or in concerto performances with symphony orchestras. The Minneapolis-born pianist's interests extend into other areas too, with Ives, Franck, Scriabin, and Charles Griffes a sampling of other composers whose works he's performed (pieces by the latter three appear on Tetzloff's 2017 debut collection Sounds of Transcendence). The set-list satisfies for pairing Schumann's four-movement Grand Sonata No. 1 in F sharp minor Op. 11 with the kaleidoscopic Carnaval Op. 9, certainly one of the composer's most arresting works, and concluding it with the Arabeske Op. 18 and Romanze Op. 28 No. 2. While all of the material was composed between 1834 and 1839, the four selections reveal an exceptional amount of stylistic diversity.
The interview brings to light many details relevant to the recording, such background enabling the works performed to be appreciated all the more. Tetzloff states, for example, that Schumann likely obtained the idea for Carnaval—“a riddle clothed in fine robes,” in his words—from a masquerade scene in Jean-Paul's novel Flegeljahre, a lifelong favourite of the composer's. The work's subtitle, “Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes,” indicates that it's based on notes spelling out S-C-H-A (letters from his surname) and A-S-C-H (the hometown of Ernestine von Fricken, to whom Schumann was engaged before his marriage to Clara Wieck). Attending the masked ball are acquaintances, colleagues, and friends, with pieces representing both Ernestine and Clara and others named for the composer's alter egos, Eusebius and Florestan. The piece captivates instantly when the “Préambule” makes an exuberant entrance and with Tetzloff careening wildly from one roller-coaster run to another. Contrasts in mood and style are abundant throughout the sixteen parts, yet holding it together is the pianist's poised execution. Whether the tempo is slow or taken at a breakneck pace, his command is never less than assured, and elegance, nobility, romance, and playfulness abound. Consistent with the character of Schumann's aliases, “Eusebius” and “Florestan – Coquette” exude Apollonian dreaminess and Dionysian passion, respectively, and affectionate nods to Chopin (“Chopin – Estrella”) and Paganini (“Valse allemande – Intermezzo: Paganini – Tempo 1 ma piu vivo”) also appear.
The alter egos reemerge in the Grand Sonata No. 1, not only in the expressive material itself but in the work's original presentation: on the title page, Schumann's name was absent and in its place the words “composed for Fraulein Clara Wieck by Florestan and Eusebius.” Unlike the miniatures that make up Carnaval, the sonata frames two short movements with ones exceeding twelve minutes apiece. In addition to being the work's dedicatee, Clara figures pivotally in the wide-ranging travelogue “Introduzione: Un poco Adagio Allegro vivace” for the fact that its main theme derives from her own composition Fantastical Scenes, Op. 5. The movement's as noteworthy, however, for its abrupt alternations between wild intensity and controlled rumination. Brief though it is, “Aria” is nevertheless lovely and further to that captures the sensitivity and grace with which Tetzloff executes softer material; by way of comparison, consider the rollicking “Scherzo” and boisterous “Finale” that follow.
Though the concluding pieces are dwarfed by the scope of the works preceding them, they amply reward for their beauty. The lilting Arabeske arrests for its delicate flow, rippling patterns executed expertly by Tetzloff, and a blissful coda; as lovely is the Romanze, which caps the release with four minutes of dreamlike splendour. Among the reasons for the powerful impression the recording makes is the very sound of the Steinway piano. Recorded in late January 2021 at Rockport Music Shalin Liu Performance Centre in Rockport, Massachusetts, Tetzloff's playing resonates with a visceral clarity that might have other pianists clamouring to record there too. Mention must be made also of the care with which album producer Paul Carasco has brought these performances so vividly to life. In all likelihood, the listener will come away from the recording longing for Tetzloff to release a second volume of Schumann material.