Colin Clarke über Burkard Schliessmanns neue Aufnahme | on the new recording of Burkard Schliessmann – Robert SCHUMANN Fantasies

In: Fanfare | The Magazine for serious Record collectors Volume 48, Nr.  6, July/August 2024

SCHUMANN  Kreisleriana, op. 16. Fantasie in C, op. 17. Arabeske, op. 18 (two versions). Fantasiestücke: op. 12; op. 111. Fantasiestücke, op. 12: No. 1, Des Abends. Nachtstücke, op. 23. Gesänge der Frühe, op. 133.   Burkard Schliessman (piano)    DIVINE ART SACD 25753 (three SACDs: 153:28)

Ever the seeker, pianist Burkard Schliessmann revisits the magical, mystical world of Robert Schumann in this latest release. Captured in superlative sound (and in Dolby Atmos via 14 microphones at Teldex Studios, Berlin), his Steinway instrument is caught magnificently by producer Julian Schwenkner and engineer Jupp Wegner. A pianist in the tradition of the greats, Schliessmann mixes a real appreciation and respect for tradition before him with exemplary insight into Schumann’s music, all wrapped in the latest technology. He used a piano (Steinway D-612236) with two keyboards, each with complete mechanics and hammers. One was brighter sounding, one darker.

Here, Schliessmann presents an exploration of the more phantasmagoric aspect of Schumann’s output. His playing is characterized by complete linear clarity married to a 360-degree harmonic understanding (from immediate detail through to large-scale structure). So it is that Schliessmann can characterise each and every element of Kreisleriana. Many of the traits identified by Peter J. Rabinowitz in his review of Schliessmann’s MSR Kreisleriana (Fanfare 34:3) are present here: crystalline clarity, and a fierce intellectualism combined with the most refined expression. Listen to Schliessmann’s “Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch” (track 2). The legato is perfect, but so is the definition of each note of the upper line, while each element of the inner voices and bass is itself heard as a perfectly judged independent entity heard in heavenly accord. Schumann’s achievements here are magnificent; and so is Schliessmann’s realization.

Schliessmann’s Schumann is far from that of an eager young pup; “Intermezzo I” of Kreisleriana is impulsive yet superbly articulated. The music flows. At times one hears references to orchestral sounds: sequences of intervals that might imply a pair of horns, for example, all invoked the myriad colors at Schliessmann’s disposal. This, coupled with his understanding of process is what makes this performance. There are inevitable points of contact with the earlier MSR recording, but this is deeper; plus, the Divine Art sound is markedly superior. Audophiles will doubtless concentrate on the sonic excellence, therefore, but musicians can revel in the far deeper rewards offered by Schliessmann. He takes risks in the sixth movement, allowing the music to ever so slowly unfurl, and how they pay off. This is Schumann at his most profound. Schliessmann is just as exciting in the seventh movement (“Sehr Rasch”) as in the earlier MSR, but his articulation is clearer (aided of course by that recording: one can really hear the difference in this movement particularly). The finale is, in line with the present release’s core ethos, properly fantastical, the displaced bass creepily stalkerish to the jittery upper line. How gloriously rich, to, the bass Fine though the MSR’s finale was, here on Divine Art, Schliessmann truly honors the fantastical, adding a hint of grotesquerie.

I reviewed a previous Fantasie by Schliessmann as recently as Fanfare 45:4 (May/June 2022: At the Heart of the Piano). There, the Fantasie was heard in the context of Liszt’s B-Minor Sonata, so comparisons between the works were apt. Here, it is heard within Schumann’s universe only, and so one tends to concentrate on the composer alone. With an expert ear (and foot) for pedalling, Schliessmann reveals both inner lines and significant bass shifts with total confidence and zero unnecessary blurring. In this most recent version, power meets a core of iron. Schliessmann is unafraid of eschewing the sustaining pedal where others cling as if drowning pianists to a piece of flotsam, and the results are often revelatory. The supremely analytical recording does document the odd pianist’s sniff, but that’s part of the feel of performance here. Far more impressive is the almost organ-like sound at times; the processional of the second movement “Mäßig” is full of majesty, as if Schliessmann relates  a fairy tale. Narration is a key aspect to Schumann’s output (whether tethered to a specific premise or not), and Schliessmann is a natural story-teller. This is a marriage made in heaven. In the work’s final panel, the pianist takes more time than previously, allowing the lines to uncurl, supported by a glorious legato. With local melody and crepuscular harmony, the effect is truly magical; and how the piano’s upper register sparkles like starlight.

The second disc opens with Schumann’s Arabeske, a piece that encapsulates in miniature all that makes Schumann’s piano music special: the intimacy, the sense of rightness, the deft counterpoint. Schliessmann presents it delicately, as the Fantaisie’s whispered after-thought. It is in the realm of the miniature and the shorter movements that Schumann shines, of course, and such is then case here, each movement of op. 12 expertly imagined by Schliessmann. The second, “Aufschwung” certainly has power, but again the ear is led to felicities of counterpoint and inter-voice dialog. Rubao is often a problem in “Warum?,” and yet here it is as natural as can me. It was “Warum?” that appeared on Schliessmann’s Live & Encores release (Fanfare 47:4) which leads me to speculate Schliessmann has a soft spot for this movement. It certainly sounds like it: the “zart” (tender) element is certainly there, and how that contrasts with “Grillen,” which here sounds more experimental than any other performance i know, pointing way forward to the late works. The second book of op. 12 begins with a stormy “In der Nacht,”; a controlled tempest of the heart perhaps, with sudden crescendos implying stabs of emotion. There are risks galore here, and they all pay off. Contrasts in “Fabel” are marked, more so than any other performance I know, and of course that juxtaposition is so perfect for Schumann. The trickiest movement in. a technical sense is surely “Traumes Wirren,” and Schliessmann creates some wonderful textural contrasts (between pedalled and clean sonorities). The final “Ende vom Lied” exudes  contained nobility.

There are two performances of the Arabeske and of “Des Abends” from Fantasiestücke, op. 12, one on each keyboard. The second Arabeske is warmer, its lyrical, contrasting sections perhaps more inviting. The first “Des Abends” is part of the complete set and is beautifully voiced, pure as spring water. The second again inevitably mellower; but what is interesting his how Schliessmann in the second instance finds just as much clarity of melody as with the first. Both shine, perhaps the first like a white pearl and the second like its black counterpart.

For all of the interpretative and technical victories of the first two discs, it is the final one that is really special, and truly elevates this set above the rest. Schliessmann performs the op. 23 Nachtstücke with an impeccable sense of rightness. Schumann exhibits a real sense of exploration in his op. 23. These four E. T. A. Hoffmann-inspired movements exhibit a whole world, from caprice to dream, all elevated not just by Schliessmann’s playing but by the tremendous presence of the recording (try the richness of the bass at the opening of the third). The flowing final panel stands in high contrast to the Urschrei that opens the first of the op. 111 Fantasiestücke. Penned in 1851, this late set of pieces was written just a few short months after the composer's appointment at Düsseldorf. Schliessmann gives a tremendous performance of all three, muscular in the first, almost hymnic in the second, a prayer-like meditation with a fearless exploration of the darker crannies of the psyche, casting a shadow over the final ”Kräftig und sehr markiert”.

Finally, Schumann’s criminally neglected Gesänge der Frühe, the last work Schumann himself prepared for publication.  In his notes, Schliessmann posits a link between this piece and Hölderlin's Diotima; either way, his performance is extraordinary, eclipsing my previous top recommendation (Piotr Anderszewski on Erato). It is Schliessmann who captures the elusive and entirely individual world of late Schumann to perfection. If I have one wish for this set, it is that Schliessmann’s performance brings Schumann’s op. 133 to a wider public. There is a sort of satisfying symmetry to the indication of the fifth and final movement, “Im Anfang ruhiges” (op. 133/1 is marked, “Im ruhiges Tempo”). Under Schliessmann’s fingers, the music seems to strive for an unknown other, and yet the search emanates from a heart at peace. A truly satisfying reading.

In his booklet notes, Schliessmann posits that the key to understanding Schumann's phatasmagoria is via his vocal music, and Schliessmann specifically cites the composer’s setting of Heine in the op. 24  Liederkreis, (No. 3, “Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen”; late, he writes on the relationship between Eichendorff and Schumann (via “Zwielicht” from the op. 29 Liederkreis). The booklet indeed makes for fascinating reading, but it is the music itself that matters. Burkard Schliessmann, in his finest offering yet, offers a homage to Schumann for the ages. Colin Clarke

five stars: Burkard Schliessmann, in his finest offering yet, offers a homage to Schumann for the ages

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