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Hyperion Records

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Keramisch-Mystisch (In der Art eines Stillebens) (1925) by Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Private Collection / Photo © Christie's Images / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67996
Recording details: May 2013
Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: May 2014
Total duration: 29 minutes 47 seconds

'A new disc from Stephen Hough is always welcome. How will he surprise us this time and where will he take us? … there’s the dark and turbulent eponymous tone-poem and the far-from-restful presto finale of the 'Moonlight', given additional agitation by Hough’s spiky left-hand off-beats. The two adroitly chosen Nocturnes show that Chopin’s nocturnal reveries could be as dark and threatening in their own way as Hough’s, if his Sonata notturno luminoso is anything to go by. Angular, dissonant, fiery and often bleak, this work (18’23" in length) suggests, among its many images, ‘the irrational fears or the disturbing dreams which are only darkened by the harsh glare of a suspended, dusty light bulb’ (the composer’s useful route map in a note appended to Harriet Smith’s thoughtful booklet)' (Gramophone) » More

'Hough’s own Sonata … is rich in textural variety and harmonic colour, full of massive chunks of sound like sculpted blocks of marble lit from within, and quirky, obsessive toccatas that whirl by like a runaway roundabout that keeps changing direction. It is unsettling, playful and original … hearing a masterful pianist performing his own work is a special experience in itself … countless details prove rewarding: the smoky pedal in the C sharp minor Nocturne’s transition, the free-flying melodic lines of ‘In der Nacht’, the veiled duskiness of the Moonlight Sonata's opening movement' (BBC Music Magazine) » More
PERFORMANCE
RECORDING

'Hough's Sonata unfolds … with an immediately apparent structural logic and a harmonic vocabulary that conveys vivid emotional narrative. As one would expect from a pianist of Hough’s gifts, textures are imaginative, with plenty of excitement and variety. Interesting from the first hearing, it grows more so with repeated listening. Hough’s musical thinking has the same warmth and communicativeness as his performing persona, so that one looks forward to hearing more … the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata heard here is very good and deeply musical … the two Chopin Nocturnes, Op 27, on the other hand, are ethereal and abundantly poetic.

Though he’s recorded some, I’ve not heard Hough play Schumann before. What a pleasure it is! His Carnaval has great warmth and gentleness, along with appropriate doses of high spirits and antic, even slapstick humour. Extremely original in concept, this interpretation is seasoned throughout with a unique tempo rubato that is both apt and uncannily subtle. I don’t think I’ve sat through another Carnaval that was quite this much fun. You should have a listen' (International Record Review) » More

'Hyperion’s superb recording and Stephen Hough’s burnished sound make this a most appealing disc on the subject of music of the night … Hough gives a ‘Moonlight’ Sonata in a different league … finding cheeky accents in the central Allegretto and presenting an explosive finale. The two Chopin Nocturnes, both beautifully shaded and harmonically aware, precede Hough’s own Second Piano Sonata … Hough is his own finest interpreter, playing with a fierce belief in the score. Finally, Schumann’s Carnaval … the opening gestures are gloriously exuberant, introducing one of the finest readings available' (International Piano) » More

Carnaval, Op 9
composer
1834/5

Other recordings available for download
Alfred Cortot (piano)
Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
Simon Barere (piano)
Myra Hess (piano)
Myra Hess (piano)
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The ‘Grandfathers’ Dance’ surfaces in the final number of Carnaval, where it represents the reactionary forces routed by the members of the ‘League of David’ (a progressive body called into being by Schumann in his guise as a music critic). The tune appears initially in the music’s bass line, and is labelled Thème du XVIIe siècle; but not even the stentorian accents in the opening bars of this piece can disguise the fact that the march is actually in waltz-time. A further butterfly flits—albeit in slow-motion—across the surface of Carnaval in the autobiographical number called ‘Florestan’, in the shape of a quotation of the rising and falling waltz-theme from the opening number of Papillons; and the ninth number of Carnaval is actually called ‘Papillons’. The latter piece does not quote from the earlier work, though the horn-calls in the left hand in its opening bars are perhaps intended to represent the insect’s antennae.

Carnaval is, in fact, essentially a masked ball on a much larger scale than Papillons. Among the revellers are figures from the Commedia dell’arte, as well as Schumann himself in the dual roles of Florestan and Eusebius, Clara Wieck (in the number called ‘Chiarina’), Paganini and Chopin. Once again, it was surely Jean Paul’s seminal novel that fired Schumann’s imagination—not the ‘Larventanz’ episode this time, but an earlier chapter whose relevance to Carnaval seems to have been overlooked by Schumann scholars. The novel’s starting-point, and one of Jean Paul’s great comic scenes, is the reading in the town of Hasslau of the last will and testament of its most eccentric inhabitant, Van der Kable. According to the terms of the will, Walt Harnisch will inherit the bulk of the estate, on condition that he fulfil successively, and for a specified length of a time, the various professional roles that had been assumed during his life by Van der Kable himself. With every mistake he makes, Walt will sacrifice a part of the estate. Thus it is that he finds himself having to act as a piano tuner for a day, under the watchful eye of a notary. At the house of the bookseller Passvogel the piano is clearly in a poor state:

It wasn’t so much that the piano wanted tuning, as strings to tune. Instead of a tuning-hammer, Walt had to turn and work the musical keys with a cellar key. A pretty, adorned fifteen-year-old girl, Passvogel’s niece, was leading a boy of five—his son—around in his shirt, and was singing quietly, trying to weave a quiet piece of dance music for the little devil out of the random tuning notes. The contrast between his little shirt and her long chemise was agreeable enough. Suddenly three strings broke—A, C and B according to the official Hasslau catalogues, which, however, do not specify in which octave. ‘Merely letters from your name, Herr Harnisch’, said Passvogel. ‘You know the musical anecdote about Bach. All you’re missing is my p!’ ‘I’m tuning B flat’, said Walt, ‘but I can’t help the breakages.’ Since the lame notary was knowledgeable enough to realize that a tuning-key couldn’t break three strings at once, he stood up, looked and found the reason. ‘Out of the Ach we’ll get a Bach!’ (the bookseller joked, turning away). ‘How many puns chance produces that certainly wouldn’t be written down in any library of belles lettres. Only the lame notary was convinced that the affair was strange, and warranted reporting; and while he was taking another look at the sounding-board, out of the sound holes behind the paper spirals peered—a mouse.

The affinity between the nomenclature of the broken piano strings and the musical ciphers that weave their way through Carnaval is striking. Schumann’s original title for his work had been Fasching: Schwänke auf vier Noten (‘Carnival: Jests on Four Notes’). That title itself concealed the four notes on which the work is based, in their two principal formations: A–S–C–H and S–C–H–A. (In German notation, H is our B natural, while S, or ‘Es’ is note E flat. The A–S–C–H motif can be ‘spelled’ musically in two different ways: either as A natural, E flat, C, B; or simply as A flat, C, B natural—in which case the first note stands for ‘As’ ). Asch was the home-town of Schumann’s one-time fiancée, Ernestine von Fricken; and he must have been intrigued to find that the same letters figured in his own name, though in a different order. Eventually, Schumann settled on Carnaval as a synonym for ‘Fasching’, though he was clearly loath to relinquish his first title which he eventually used for a later work in which the four-note motifs did not appear: Faschingsschwank aus Wien.

Between the eighth and ninth numbers of Carnaval Schumann quoted his musical ciphers, or ‘Sphinxes’ as he labelled them, in a secret form that was intended solely for the pianist’s eyes (though one or two performers—notably Rachmaninov—have tried to make something out of Schumann’s cryptogram at this point).

The three motifs are closely related, and appropriately enough Schumann’s own cryptogram (the first of the three ‘Sphinxes’) appears, very discreetly, only in the ‘Eusebius’ and ‘Florestan’ numbers. For the rest, even the piece that occurs at the exact mid-point of Carnaval under the title of ‘A–S–C–H — S–C–H–A (Lettres dansantes)’ does not actually make use of the S–C–H–A cipher. What Clara made of the fact that her piece so clearly alludes to the residence of Schumann’s old flame is hard to imagine, but no doubt she had console herself with the thought that the first two letters of her name in its Italianate form of ‘Chiarina’ are so strongly emphasized by means of sforzato accents in the music’s inner line. Only the characters of Chopin and Paganini, who do not strictly speaking belong to Schumann’s autobiographical circle, are wholly exempt from the scheme. (Paganini’s piece, which evokes both his spiccato and his legato bowing, forms a quasi-trio for the ‘Valse allemande’.) It is true, however, that the cryptograms do not appear in the ‘Préambule’ either. This opening number, whose music makes a partial return in the final piece to round the work off in circular fashion, actually grew out of a projected set of variations on Schubert’s famous ‘Trauer-Waltzer’, whose harmonic outline can still be traced in Schumann’s opening bars.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2005


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