Winner of Prix de l'Académie Charles Cros, this set brings together Robert Schumann's complete works for solo piano. This great cycle benefited from having been recorded in the unique acoustics of La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, by the same recording engineer, Jean-Marc Laisné.
I’ve had this Robert Schumann compilation from Brazilian pianist Guiomar Novaes for a half year now and keep coming back to it, always with the pleasure. Novaes presents balanced interpretations of some famous Schuman compositions; there’s nothing adventurous or idiosyncratic about her approach but they are musical and very winning.
Probably my two favorites performances are of the Papillons waltzes, Schumann’s Op. 2, and the big and beautiful Symphonic Variations. Novaes’ Papillons are charming and light without being lightweight. A heavier composition, the Symphonic Variations elicit an emotional reading from Novaes.
The essence of Camille Saint-Saëns' music comes through perhaps most clearly in his music for solo instrument and orchestra, which exemplifies his elegant combination of melody and conservatory-generated virtuosity. The two cello concertos are here, plus a pair of crowd-pleasing short works for piano and orchestra, and the evergreen Carnival of the Animals, with pianists Louis Lortie and Hélène Mercier joining forces along with a collection of instruments that includes the often-omitted glass harmonica. There are all kinds of attractions here: the gently humorous and not over-broad Carnival, the songful cello playing of Truls Mørk, and the little-known piano-and-orchestra scene Africa, Op. 89, with its lightly Tunisian flavor (sample this final track). But really, the central thread connecting them all is the conducting of Neeme Järvi and the light, graceful work of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; French music is the nearly 80-year-old Järvi's most congenial environment, and in this recording, perhaps his last devoted to Saint-Saëns, he has never been better.
Not all of the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies are flat-out showpieces like the best-known ones, so this disc makes for a better listening program than you might expect. And Jénö Jandó, who must be the hardest-working pianist in the recording business, has a real flair for this music. He plays with the combination of free rhythms and virtuosity that the music demands, and he even indulges in a bit of improvisation when the spirit moves him. This was probably something Liszt did himself, and other great Liszt interpreters such as Rachmaninov and Cziffra have done the same thing. Jandó doesn't quite have Cziffra's overwhelming virtuosity, but he plays musically and the result is a highly entertaining disc.