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July 2021

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.


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