Tuesday 2 December 2014

Very fine Schumann performances from Andreas Staier playing an Erard piano of 1837 on a new release from Harmonia Mundi

Sebastion Erard (1752-1831) was born in Strasbourg but moved to Parris in 1768 where he founded his firm of harp and piano makers. He constructed his first piano in 1777 and went on to invent the double escapement piano action which greatly improved key repetition and control, effectively the forerunner of the modern piano action.

It is an Erard piano, built in Paris in 1837 that Andreas Staier http://andreas-staier.de uses on his new disc of Robert Schumann’s (1810-1856) Variationen and Fantasiestücke from Harmonia Mundi www.harmoniamundi.com 

HMC 902171

Interestingly 1837 is the same year that Schumann wrote his Fantasiestücke, Op.12 thus making the date of this instrument exactly right. Indeed, the invention by Erard of his double escapement action in 1822 gave Schumann exactly the kind of instrument that he seemed to need for his music.

Exactly what make of pianos Schumann played I have been unable to ascertain from my reference sources to hand. The Schumann House Museum in Zwickau, Germany has a number of instruments that seem to have been connected to his wife Clara Wieck, an 1828 André Stein 6-octave grand piano supplied in 1828 for the young Clara, an Ernst Rosenkranz table piano, constructed around 1840, of the type played by the young Clara, a Ludwig Bösendorfer c.1870 and a grand piano built by Wilhelm Wieck, a cousin of Clara Wieck’s, in Dresden.

Andreas Staier begins his recital with Schumann’s Abegg-Variationen, Op. 1 (1830) bringing a lovely flow to the Tema. Animato.  Variation I really sparkles, the crisp tone of this 1837 Erard sounding so well with its nicely rounded lower register revealed in Variation II. Variation III brings such fine fluency with Staier revelling in the range of tones he can draw from this instrument. There is a lovely flowing Cantabile - Non troppo lento full of delicacy and charm before the Finale alla Fantasia – Vivace to which Staier brings more wonderful fluent fluency with a fine control of dynamics and a lovely quieter moment before racing to the coda with a lovely touch at the end.

Staier brings a lovely gentle touch to the Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 (1837) bringing a fine depth of feeling to Des Abends - Sehr innig zu spielen revealing what can be gained from using such an instrument. Aufschwung - Sehr rasch Staier draws some spectacularly fine bravura, dynamic sounds from this instrument, it is surprising how in Staier’s hands the amount of volume, presence and depth of sound that can be produced. This is formidable playing.

There is a beautifully nuanced Warum Langsam und zart, such refined playing, and with Grillen - Mit Humor Staier this pianist brings out all the fine rhythmic buoyancy with lovely phrasing and dynamics. In der Nacht - Mit Leidenschaft  Staier’s shows a beautiful touch, so light and fluid in this often stormy piece, with moments of fine poetry. He brings much to Schumann’s Fabel - Langsam – Schnell revelling in his often changeable moods.

Traumes Wirren - Äußerst lebhaft brings some very fine, fluent playing showing just how fine this old Erard can be with playing that is full of life, joy and panache as well as a lovely central section. There is a fine forward drive to Ende Vom Lied - Mit Gutem Humor, beautifully phrased and with a full appreciation of Schumann’s changing tempi.

We move forward in time for Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 111 (c.1851) with a finely fluent, strong and wayward Sehr rasch, mit leidenschaftlichem Vortrag. This is a terrific performance. Ziemlich langsam - Etwas bewegter - Erstes Tempo is rather poignant, beautifully phrased and rising to become agitated and stormy. Staier brings some formidable strength before the opening tempo returns to which he brings a resigned feel, beautifully done.

Kräftig und sehr markiert brings some beautiful passages where, again, Staier responds so well to Schumann’s rather quixotic nature as well as some beautifully well sprung dynamic passages.

Finally on this disc we have the Variations in E flat Major 'Ghost Variations' (1854) with a perfectly paced Tema. Leise, innig and Staier revealing so many subtleties as the variations unfold. In Variation II Canonisch he weaves some lovely lines drawing fine sonorities from his instrument and, in Variation III Etwas belebter revealing all of Schumann’s little details. Variation IV brings more fine phrasing, beautifully drawn and revealing a certain darkness before the final Variation V where this pianist reveals some remarkable textures as Schumann’s ‘ghost’ appears amid the shimmering background.

This is a very fine Schumann disc indeed with the added pleasure of hearing such a fine old instrument. Staier receives a very fine recording, not too close and with a sense of space around the instrument. There are excellent booklet notes.

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