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Hyperion Records

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A River Scene in Alsace by Charles Euphrasie Kurwasseg (1833-1904)
Fine Art Photographic Library / Burlington Paintings
Track(s) taken from CDA67166
Recording details: December 1999
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: February 2001
Total duration: 25 minutes 4 seconds

'A dazzling technician fuses technical dexterity and poetry to compelling effect … for me the outstanding performance is the great C major Fantasie … so beautifully voiced and phrased I can only say that it moved me more deeply than any I have heard for a long time’ (Gramophone)

'Genuinely outstanding disc' (The Guardian)

'Hamelin brings a transcendental technique and passionate romantic temperament to music that, more often than not, is the preserve of pianistic intellectuals and poets. But his performances of the great C major Fantasy and the Symphonic Studies are not merely exercises in virtuosity. His astounding feats of dexterity and dazzling spectrum of colour are constantly put to the service of the music. This is freshly conceived Schumann, light and brilliant in bravura passages—the concluding Allegro brillante of the Etudes rarely sounds so joyous—yet never lightweight in reflective music: the slow third movement of the Fantasy is a poignantly poetic meditation, while the lovely Andantino of the Sonata glows with an entirely appropriate inward emotional intensity. Hamelin's Schumann ideally combines the extrovert and introspective characteristics of this glorious music. Highly recommended.' (The Sunday Times)

'While there’s no shortage of either visceral excitement or poetic exploration, this remains supremely balanced playing … If you’re already a Hamelin aficionado, of course, you won’t need my urging to buy this disc; but if you’ve been wary because of his usually offbeat repertoire, here’s a chance to see what he can contribute to the mainstream. Top recommendation' (Fanfare, USA)

‘If you want to experience a whirlwind ride, Hamelin is definitely your man. A remarkable tour-de-force’ (The Irish Times)

‘Supreme artistry’ (Pianist)

‘These are among the most poetic readings you will find by anyone. The tone is beautiful, the phrases long and songful, the drama passionate. This disc whets one’s appetite for more mainstream masterpieces from the world’s fastest fingers’ (Capital Times)

'[Hamelin’s] reading is glorious in its blend of virtuosity and emotional commitment … The recording quality is first-rate. I doubt very much if the current year will produce a finer piano CD’ (Musical Opinion)

Études symphoniques, Op 13
published as XII Études symphoniques in 1837, then as Études en forme de Variations in 1852 with significant alterations

Thema: Andante  [1'45]
Variation 2  [3'14]
Étude 3: Vivace  [1'23]
Variation 3  [0'58]
Variation 4  [1'05]
Variation 5  [0'51]
Variation 7  [2'56]
Variation 8  [1'13]
Variation 9  [2'35]

Other recordings available for download
Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
Moura Lympany (piano)
Percy Grainger (piano)
Myra Hess (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Schumann’s Op 13 is one of a number of his piano works—others include the Impromptus, Op 5, and Davidsbündlertänze, Op 6—that exist in two distinct published versions, the first dating from the 1830s and the second a consequence of a process of revision undertaken in the early 1850s. In the case of Op 13, the original composition took place between December 1834 and January 1835, and the resulting publication of 1837 was entitled XII Etudes symphoniques; the revision, issued by a different publisher in 1852, bore the title Etudes en forme de Variations; it is this version, from which the third and ninth pieces of the original sequence are omitted, and other revisions made, that is recorded here.

Each of the two titles both reveals and suppresses information about the music. The 1852 version acknowledges that the work effectively belongs to the genre of theme and variations, each ‘study’ being a relatively strict variation on the sixteen-bar theme heard at the outset. (Moreover, the individual variations are identified as such, whereas in the 1837 edition the term ‘étude’ is employed, consistent with the overall title.) On the other hand, the reference to ‘symphonic’ quality in the 1837 version acknowledges the frankly orchestral conception of much of the writing, which demands real pianistic virtuosity; to this extent, the designation ‘étude’ is appropriate, in that each étude/variation explores a particular pianistic figuration and thus fulfils Schumann’s demand that an étude should ‘develop technique or lead to the mastery of some particular difficulty’.

An even earlier idea for the title is more revealing still: ‘Etüden im Orchestercharakter … von Florestan und Eusebius’ not only reinforces the understanding of symphonique noted above, but offers a means of understanding the ‘poetic’ content of the music. Evidently Schumann meant to express the contrasting aspects of his own character through the fictive personalities of his two ‘best friends’, as he called them: the active, dynamic Florestan, and the more passive, introspective Eusebius. Whether he initially intended to sign each of the études ‘F’ or ‘E’, as in the first edition of Davidsbündlertänze, is unclear; in any case, neither in 1837 nor in 1852 did Eusebius feature very prominently, despite the ostensibly Eusebian nature of the theme itself, marked ‘Andante’. (That there was originally more of Eusebius in the work is suggested by five further études, omitted from both versions and published posthumously in an edition by Brahms.)

Schumann claimed that the sixteen-bar theme was composed by the Baron von Fricken, father of Ernestine, with whom Schumann had fallen in love during 1834 (the family lived in Asch, the musical translation of the letters of which name provided Schumann with the ‘Sphinxes’ which underpin the music of his Carnaval, Op 9). The études/variations which follow tend to hold fast to the harmonic and melodic structure of the theme, though not to the suppression of all inventiveness: in Variation II, for example, the original melody becomes the bass underpinning of a new soprano line; and Variation VI substitutes E major for C sharp minor, the key of the theme and all other variations except the extended finale, which provides a triumphant major-mode ending and incorporates in its main theme a quotation from the (then) well-known Romance ‘Du stolzes England, freue dich’, from Marschner’s Der Templer und die Jüdin: a subtle homage, perhaps, to the nationality of the dedicatee, Schumann’s friend and fellow-composer William Sterndale Bennett. Prior to the finale, fugato and canonic writing are prominent in Variations I, III, and IV, while Variation VII alludes to the stylistic world of the Baroque, and specifically the French overture.

from notes by Nicholas Marston © 2001

Other albums featuring this work
'Sergio Fiorentino – The Early Recordings, Vol. 6 – Schumann' (APR5586)
Sergio Fiorentino – The Early Recordings, Vol. 6 – Schumann
MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99 APR5586  Download only  
'Moura Lympany – The HMV Recordings, 1947-1952' (APR6011)
Moura Lympany – The HMV Recordings, 1947-1952
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99 APR6011  for the price of 1 — Download only  
'Myra Hess – The complete solo and concerto studio recordings' (APR7504)
Myra Hess – The complete solo and concerto studio recordings
MP3 £16.49FLAC £16.49ALAC £16.49 APR7504  Download only  
'Percy Grainger – The complete 78-rpm solo recordings' (APR7501)
Percy Grainger – The complete 78-rpm solo recordings
MP3 £16.49FLAC £16.49ALAC £16.49 APR7501  Download only  

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