Marc-André presents a fascinating juxtaposition of two composers who are not obviously musically related, but who are proved on this album to be a felicitous combination.
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Schumann’s well-loved Kinderszenen (‘Scenes from childhood’) cycle is a masterpiece: each piece is as deftly and exquisitely crafted as anything in his more outwardly sophisticated mode. From the haunting beauty of the opening ‘From foreign lands and people’ (‘Von fremden Ländern und Menschen’), via the spare eloquence of the central ‘Dreaming’ (‘Träumerei’), to the quiet rhetoric of ‘The poet speaks’ (‘Der Dichter spricht’), the listener is taken through nuances of emotion whose effects are heartrendingly poignant.
Waldszenen (‘Forest scenes’) is another collection of miniatures, and Schumann’s last major cycle for solo piano. This deeply ‘Romantic’ work in the most psychological sense of the word is no objective foray into the woods, but a very personal reaction to an imagined landscape; and equally striking is the sense that each piece represents just a shard of a larger experience. On the whole it is the more bucolic aspect that Schumann explores, though these pieces are not without darker shadows. And while they may be technically fairly straightforward, their changeability calls for the quickest of reactions and a wealth of subtle nuance.
Over half a century separates Schumann’s nature-inspired Waldszenen from the first book of Janácvek’s On the overgrown path. The subject matter is darker and more oblique and the piano writing is deceptively treacherous, many of the difficulties far from overt. The title of the overall cycle refers to a Moravian wedding song, the bride lamenting that ‘The path to my mother’s has become overgrown with clover’. The sequence of ten pieces that comprises Book 1 constitutes, as the scholar John Tyrrell has written, some of the ‘profoundest, most disturbing music that Janácvek had written, their impact quite out of proportion to their modest means and ambition’.