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Hyperion Records

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Masquerade (1922) by Karl Hofer (1878-1955)
Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne / AKG-Images, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67120
Recording details: August 2002
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: November 2005
Total duration: 28 minutes 51 seconds

'This is Hamelin's second Schumann recital for Hyperion. Once again, for the most part, there is a reassuring sense of a pianist expanding his poetic horizons as well as his legendary mastery' (Gramophone)

'Hamelin's combination of fleet-fingered delicacy and compelling drive suit Schumann's aesthetic ideally; but best of all is his gleeful sense of story-telling … the excellent sound-quality has all the warmth and detail that Hyperion habitually bring to Hamelin's CDs' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Marc-André Hamelin's refreshingly robust yet subtle, crystalline playing does justice to both sides of the composer's strange personality, the passionate Florestan and the dreamer Eusebius' (The Sunday Times)

'Not since Sviatoslav Richter's classic 1962 live account of Papillons have these fluttering miniatures been so stunningly brought to life as by that genius of the piano, Marc-André Hamelin … add an entrancing Op 12 Fantasiestücke to surpass even Argerich's, a stunning production from Andrew Keener and exemplary notes from Misha Donat, and you have a Schumann disc made in heaven' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Exceptionally lucid performances of three standards—performances that show off, in equal measure, the creativity of composer and the interpretive sensitivity of the pianist, undeniably among the handful of great perfomers of his generation … it's not news, but it's worth repeating: Hamelin's technique is unsurpassed; and no pianist of comparable virtuosity has applied his or her skills with more tact and subtlety … above and beyond the unparalleled level of detail, there's Hamelin's musicality and his consistently alert imagination, which give each of the 40-odd character pieces on this CD a distinct and meaningful character, mapping out the music's emotional shifts with a sureness that's astonishing' (Fanfare, USA)

'All three of these sets of pieces by Schumann—Papillons, Fantasiestücke and Carnaval—explore the world of the composer's imagination. And it is that sense of fantasy that comes across so beautifully in Marc-André Hamelin's performances' (The Evening Standard)

'All these works are played with a youthful vigour, and in Papillons Hamelin captures the spirit of the 20-year-old composer with lightness and clarity, subtle rubato and a dash of humour' (International Piano)

Fantasiestücke, Op 12

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Op 12 Fantasiestücke, completed in the early weeks of 1838, pay oblique tribute to one of Schumann’s favoured authors, E T A Hoffmann. Their collective title (Schumann was to use it again in later years for a set of pieces for clarinet and piano, as well as another for piano trio) evokes Hoffmann’s Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier, a collection of tales and essays that encompasses the writer’s two ‘Kreisleriana’ cycles. When the volume appeared, it bore not only an introductory note on the famous seventeenth-century French engraver Jacques Callot by Hoffmann himself, but also a preface by Jean Paul.

The eight Fantasiestücke (there was originally a ninth piece, but Schumann omitted it from the collection and it was not published until 1935) do not form a unified cycle in the sense that Carnaval does. They were designed more for the drawing-room than the concert-hall, though writing to Clara Wieck on 12 February 1838 Schumann recommended individual pieces for public performance—in particular, ‘Des Abends’ and ‘Traumes Wirren’. Curiously enough, he thought ‘In der Nacht’—surely one of the very finest pieces in the series—too long for such a purpose. As for Clara, she confessed that her favourites were ‘Fabel’, ‘Des Abends’, ‘Aufschwung’, ‘Grillen’ and ‘Ende vom Lied’.

Schumann divided the Fantasiestücke into two Books, each having its own tonal centre. Three of the four pieces in Book I are in D flat major. Significantly enough, the exception—‘Aufschwung’—sets off as though it is to be in B flat minor, the closest relative among the minor keys to D flat major; and the first of its two contrasting episodes is actually in D flat. Not until the very end does the main theme at last cadence with deliberate abruptness onto the home chord of F minor.

‘Des Abends’ is among the most perfect and intimate of all Schumann’s piano miniatures. Its smooth melody is syncopated throughout (it is the left-hand accompaniment that maintains the actual beat); and when it passes to the inner voice in the second half of the opening section, it undergoes a further shift in relation to the bar-line. The pianist playing this piece finds his thumbs interlocked virtually throughout.

Following the dramatic intensity of ‘Aufschwung’, with its upward-surging melody, the question posed in ‘Warum?’ seems to be of secretive innocence. The piece is much shorter and simpler than the remaining numbers, and could almost have been designed for Kinderszenen—the collection Schumann composed immediately after completing the Fantasiestücke. The end of its second half links back to its repeat, but it does not provide a real conclusion the second time through. Instead, the circular, repetitive nature of the closing bars leaves the music hanging in mid-air, as though on a genuine question-mark.

The melodic contour of ‘Warum?’ is taken over in the opening bars of the good-natured ‘Grillen’—another piece that begins by approaching its home key obliquely. Schumann wanted it played with humour—a concept he later described (apropos his Humoreske Op 20) as being characteristically German—a happy combination, as he put it, of ‘Gemütlichkeit’ and wit.

Of the pieces in the second Book, both ‘In der Nacht’ and ‘Traumes Wirren’ unfold in a constant swirl of semiquavers—dark and intense in the former (though it has a warmer, more lyrical episode in the major), dazzlingly light in the latter. There are more cascading semiquavers in the middle section of ‘Fabel’, though for the rest this piece alternates a slow, smoothly expressive phrase (the ‘once upon a time’, perhaps, suggested by the piece’s title) and a much quicker staccato idea. The final piece makes a return to the slightly pompous Biedermeier style of ‘Grillen’, and once again the pianist is instructed to play it good-humouredly. But the coda introduces a new element of poetry into the proceedings, and the nostalgic final bars echo the opening melody in slow-motion, and as if from afar.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2005

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