Five major piano cycles of early Romanticism, newly recorded by a major exponent of historically informed keyboard playing.
Acclaimed as China’s ‘premier interpreter of Bach’ by International Piano Magazine, the Chinese pianist Yuan Sheng has gained international recognition through his performances in the US and China, among many other countries. The New York Times praised Sheng’s performances of Bach as ‘models of clarity, balance and proportion’. His discography on Piano Classics includes several of the composer’s major cycles such as the Goldberg Variations (PCL0042) and Partitas (PCL10126) which have won critical acclaim for their agile rhythms and sensitive touch, informed by a profound understanding of the music’s origins for harpsichord and the expressive potential of its transfer to the modern piano, which he now passes on to students as a professor of piano at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.
This depth of study and beauty of sound, informed by intensive study with Rosalyn Tureck, also mark out his newly recorded interpretations of five major piano cycles by Robert Schumann, who along with Chopin did more than any other composer to expand the horizons of the piano in the early decades of the 19th century and position it as the supreme articulation of a Romantic composer’s ambition in the hands of a single performer. Thus the present album makes an essential complement to Yuan Sheng’s extensive collection of Chopin’s work (including the Ballades, Impromptus, Preludes and 20 Nocturnes: PCL0049) issued by Piano Classics in 2013.
While Sheng’s Chopin was recorded on an 1845, he returns to a modern Steinway for this Schumann without sacrificing the freedom of expression and lightness of touch which marked out the previous album. From the Davidsbündlertänze of 1837 through to the Waldszenen of 1849, the collection surveys the peaks of Schumann’s piano writing with a concentration on the composer’s gift for distilling a mood within a miniature. This mood-painting reaches its height in the seventh movement of Waldszenen which became an avatar of Romanticism, ‘Der Vogel als Prophet’, connecting worlds as seemingly distant as Rameau and Messiaen.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) was the master of the miniature, the small form, the sketch characterising a person, a landscape, a mood or an idea. The piano cycles presented on this CD offer a wide variety of emotions, from the sublime calm of a summer evening, the intimacy of a dream, the soaring of young passion to the sinister atmosphere of a pitch-dark night. In Carnaval Op. 9 and Davidsbündlertänze Op. 6 Schumann presents characters from the Commedia dell’arte, each representing different characteristics and emotions. In the characters of Florestan and Eusebius Schumann finds his own innermost personae: the dreamlike Eusebius contra the passionate Florestan. The Kinderszenen is unique in the evocation of childhood and its contrasting emotions, the Waldszenen evoke nature’s realm, its natural, animal and human (the hunter..) inhabitants.
According to International Piano, Yuan Sheng is China’s ‘premier interpreter of Bach’. Having studied in the US, including an intensive period with the legendary Bach interpreter Rosalyn Tureck, he has maintained an international performing career alongside his post as professor of piano at the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music. According to International Piano, Yuan Sheng is China’s ‘premier interpreter of Bach’. He is currently recording Bach’s complete keyboard works for Piano Classics. Yuan Sheng has a deep understanding and command of early pianos that has resulted in many well-received historically informed performances and recordings. In reviewing his all-Beethoven recital on an 1805 Kathönig piano, the Boston Intelligencer remarked that ‘Sheng had absorbed this music so thoroughly that a listener might easily have imagined the composer at the keyboard.’
The present recording by Yuan Sheng is played on a Streicher fortepiano from 1846, its special sonorities and balance lending a uniquely authentic character to the performance.
Critical praise for Yuang Chen’s Chopin on Piano Classics:
This is not lightweight Chopin... Sheng seems to be able to provide more variety of sound on his ancient piano than we are used to with modern pianos. For me, all his expressive devices, the terraced dynamics, the occasional rubatos, work… This is superior Chopin playing by any standards.’ (Fanfare)