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Schumann / Reed Tetzloff (pn) / Master Performers 21001 (77:30)

Updated: Nov 27, 2021

Fanfare magazine
September/October 2021

For  readers who immediately jump to the end of a review in order to get the  bottom-line judgment, let me state it immediately. This well-recorded  release is the best Schumann recital from an American pianist in years.  Reed Tetzloff has a strong, assured technique; he is in total sympathy  with Schumann’s idiom, and he has deeply thought through his  interpretations of the four works on the program but especially the two  main ones, Carnaval and Piano Sonata No. 1 in F♯ Minor. Anyone who loves  these works is very likely to come away in admiration of how maturely  Tetzloff approaches such a fascinating, whimsical, impetuous,  self-divided genius as Schumann.


On  first hearing Kreisleriana at the age of 17, Tetzloff says in the  booklet interview, he thought that the piece was “a soundtrack for life  itself.” With this perspective as a jumping-off point, Tetzloff  expresses himself eloquently about every facet of Schumann’s musical  personality. Typically, presenting an interview in lieu of proper  program notes is barely second-best, but in this case something  remarkable is revealed. America has a tradition of producing pianists  with a strong intellectual bent—one could name Charles Rosen, Russell  Sherman, and Jonathan Biss—all writers of insightful books. Tetzloff’s  interview is as penetrating, intelligent, and cultivated as any of his  predecessors.


He  unravels the multi-dimensional scheme behind Carnaval as a kind of  literary mystery, using the kaleidoscopic image of a masked ball at  Carnival time populated by a raft of characters. These range from  musical celebrities (Paganini and Chopin) to the two romantic  attachments Schumann had at the time (Clara Wieck, whom he knew from  childhood, and his then-fiancée Ernestine von Fricken) and his own  imaginary alter egos, Eusebius and Florestan. This much most pianophiles  know, but Tetzloff elaborates on the enigmatic use of the four-note  sequence that dominates Carnaval, E♭-C-B-A, which Schumann’s intricate  literary mind recombined to signify his own name, Clara’s, and the town  of Asch, where Ernestine lived. Then there is the hidden significance of  saving the key of C for Clara (a lifelong association) and the keys  around E for Eusebius and F for Florestan.


Tetzloff  explores these intricacies deeper than any other pianist I’ve heard  commenting on the piece, rising almost to Rosen’s exalted intellectual  level. But at the same time I reflected that Rosen as pianist couldn’t  always equal the insights of Rosen as writer. Occasionally Tetzloff runs  into this limitation, too. His general style in Schumann favors  exuberance, energy, and excitement (Florestan’s persona) over poetry and  dreaming (Eusebius’s persona). Everything is musically satisfying, but  considering that the pianist’s keyboard heroes are Cortot and Uchida, he  isn’t able to free his imagination quite as much as they do.


Tetzloff’s  technique allows him to be riveting in a section like “Paganini” and  the final March of the Davidsbund. The extrovert movements in Sonata No.  1 come off best; despite his poetic feeling for the Aria movement when  he talks about it, there is a certain sameness of touch that inhibits  the actual performance. If Tetzloff had Uchida’s sensitivity of touch,  he’d transcend any of the younger American pianists I get to hear on  disc. As it stands, I’d place Andrew Tyson ahead of him for both  imagination and touch, and an established interpreter like Biss exhibits  more depth through his fingers—right now Tetzloff’s words are ahead of  his fingers.


I  hasten to add that I am setting him beside the great Schumann  interpreters that linger in memory. There have been superlative readings  of the two short works on the program, Arabeske and Romance No. 2 from  the three Romances of op. 28—Clara thought that the latter, which was  written for her, the tenderest music she had ever heard, and half a  century later she asked to hear it on her deathbed. Tetzloff’s readings  are exemplary, but I’m not sure they move the listener as much as the  music, as he tells us, moves him.


I  can’t find a date of birth for Tetzloff, but he was born in  Minneapolis, graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the  Mannes School, and is New York based. He has placed in several  competitions, tours internationally, including in China, and seems to be  carving out a busy career. In other words, he occupies the middle  distance in the very tough, demanding life of a concert pianist. I hope  this release brings him wider recognition. On the strength of his  Schumann, he deserves to be seen as a striking talent with great future  prospects.


Huntley Dent
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