The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: EMI issues great and affordable sets to mark the Robert Schumann bicentennial

August 13, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday I said I would blog about two items that set a model for how to mark a major event – in this case the 200th anniversary of composer Robert Schumann (below, 1810-1856), which was celebrated on June 8.

In Part One, you’ll recall, I reviewed John C. Tibbetts’ “Schumann: A Chorus of Voices” (Amadeus Press, $40).

That hefty volume combines oral history and musicology to make for an extremely readable and highly informative. The author interviews dozens of well known performers and scholars and then transcribes edits and organizes their remarks.It also includes a CD of the Novelettes and . It is simply one of the most pleasurable and well-packaged volumes I have ever read about how to appreciate a major composer and his music.

But of course you still need the music itself to appreciate the composer.

That leads me to my second item: EMI boxed sets of Schumann’s music.

Each set contains between four and six CDs. There are four, divided according to genre: Solo Piano Music (below), Chamber Music, Orchestral Music and Lieder or songs. All have similar covers, so you know they belong together.

I can’t quite figure out the pricing structure, or if it is consistent. But the sets come out to somewhere between $3.50 and $6 a disc – pretty much a budget price.

Although I haven’t heard many or even most of the releases, I can say that the sound quality of the recordings, many of them remastered, is exceptional.

But two qualities are even more interesting.

One is that some rarely heard Schumann is included. The solo piano set, for example, contains the Op. 4 Intermezzi, the Op. 5 Variations on a Theme of Clara Wieck and the late Songs of Morning – none of which you hear often. Unfortunately, it also leaves out the Op. 12 Fantasy Pieces, which should have been included –– EMI has a recording by Martha Argerich – because the cycle of works is quintessential Schumann and because so many listeners and piano students know the works.

The other interesting and notable aspect is that the sets use either artists whose work has not been commercially released, at least not in the US, or who have fallen out of print.

The sets are heavy on violinist Frank Peter Zimmerman and pianists Christian Zacharias (below) and Jean-Philippe Collard, for example, who turn out to be memorable Schumann interpreters of solo, chamber and concerted works.

Conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch (below) is featured as is pianist Martha Argerich.

In order of preference, I most like the pianos sets and then the chamber music set followed by the orchestral set and then the song set.

But no matter what genre of music you prefer, you really can’t go wrong, The price is right and the repertoire is, for the most part, right. The artists are right, even if you do have other performers you prefer in individual works.

(Deutsche Grammophon also has issued a wonderful Schumann set “The Masterworks” (below). It is more comprehensive with 35 CDs and has many famous artists, including pianist Maurizio Pollini. But you have to buy the whole thing for $100, while the EMI allows you to indulge your preferences more affordably and selectively.)

I do have one criticism: I would have liked better notes to accompany the music. But I consider that a relatively minor flaw – easily corrected by the volume I reviewed yesterday.

So, congratulations to EMI for a job well done from concept to execution, from the music-making to the marketing.

Here is Christian Zacharias playing two selections I love from Schumann “Fantasy Pieces.” (You can find the rest at YouTube). It makes you wish EMI had included the work in the Piano Music set:

Have you heard any of the EMI Schumann Anniversary set?

What do you think of them?

Which ones would you recommend?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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