“The Schumann Project: Volume 1”
Clara Schumann: Piano Sonata in G minor
Robert Schumann: Symphonic Etudes, opus 13
Inna Faliks (piano)
Recording: Ostin Music Center Recording Studio, University of California, Los Angeles, California (September 2020) – 55’10
MSR Classics MS 1763 – Booklet in English
Inna Faliks, the Ukrainian-born American pianist, has released the first in a series of albums that presents compositions of Clara (Wieck) Schumann and Robert Schumann without making judgments or comparisons between the two. The pair began as student (Clara) and teacher (Robert) and ended as a married couple with eight children and Robert ravaged by mental illness and an early death.
Volume 1 of the Schumann Project presents a smooth, interesting performance of Clara’s Sonata in G minor from 1841, followed by a warm reading of Robert’s Symphonic Etudes, opus 13 begun in 1834, a work of dazzling richness and opportunity for pianists to reveal the full range of their interpretative skill.
Of the neglected women composers enjoying a bit of a Renaissance in our century, few are as insightful, talented, and imaginative as Clara Schumann, whose work resounds with the vitality of her time and a creative drive that sadly was derailed by the rigors of motherhood, the deteriorating health of her husband, and the general lack of support women composers faced in the 19th century.
Faliks, who is head of the piano program at UCLA, offers us a Clara Schumann still filled with dreams and delicacy. It is a subtle performance, with airiness lightly whipped into the presentation, like egg whites blended into a soufflé. In the fourth movement, Faliks produces soft, plump tones, fully hydrated but resilient to her steady touch.
Robert’s Etudes are a challenging affair, not just for musician and audience, but also for those who attempt to keep neat, accurate catalogs of what goes where. The work began as a series of 16 variations on a theme by Baron von Fricken. In this edition, five posthumous variations are woven in among the 18 tracks, with the work ending with an “Allegro brillante”, Etude XII.
Faliks takes a gentle approach to this varied array of musical miniatures. This is Schumann the mild, a fitting partner for the dreamy sonata which opens the album, romanticism with a wistful flair, not wildly tearing up the keys as one often hears in performances of works from this era. This approach does lead to a certain sleepiness, as in Posthumous Variation II (track 10), contrasting with Schumann’s bouncy Etudes IV and V which follow. Ranging from half a minute to nearly six minutes in length, there are several variations involving storm clouds of triplets or 16th notes, and some strange melodic shenanigans into which we may be tempted to discern the dawn of Schumann’s mental instability.
These irregularities seemed to intensify in Etude XI (track 20) and Posthumous Variation V (track 21), where I found myself listening to the disk on several different devices to figure out what was going on, even consulting the score and a couple of other pianists’ performances. Posthumous Variation V was particularly peculiar, and I’m still not sure whether the artist or the composer is being unduly adventurous in this section. At any rate, Faliks concludes the album with a fiery “Allegro brilliante” (Etude 12) which builds with many adroit twists and turns to a satisfying conclusion. She is an insightful and skilled musician with an original point of view, and I look forward to her next volume as the Schumann saga continues to unfold.