Author Topic: Schumann: (Grosse) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20  (Read 420 times)

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Offline amw

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Schumann: (Grosse) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« on: October 09, 2018, 04:25:15 AM »
A potentially ongoing thread. Any contributions welcome.



Hisako Kawamura begins her Ruhr performance of Schumann's most personal and intimate work very unobtrusively, but within moments one's attention is drawn to her ritardandi, positioned faithfully to the score but played as significant slowdowns rather than brief hesitations. The relatively fast initial tempo for the Einfach introduction also contributes to this impression of music with a latent forward energy continually frustrated by arbitrary ritardandi. Despite Kawamura's slow overall tempo—just a bit over thirty minutes—the emphasis here is definitely on the faster and more driven music, and this concept of frustrated energy is more fully explored in the Sehr rasch und leicht, filled with hesitations both micro and macro, a convincing interpretation of a movement whose thematic development and acceleration fails to do anything more than bring the music back around in a circle to where it began. In the second movement, Hastig, Kawamura plays the "Innere Stimme" theme significantly slower than the remainder of the movement, again faithfully observing its ritardandi. She also takes seriously Schumann's marking Wie ausser Tempo, displacing the right-hand downbeats by a semiquaver—something other pianists often attempt but rarely succeed in doing—an extraordinary disorientating effect that is surely what Schumann intended (although I do think he intended it to go on for longer).

The third movement Einfach und zart is not an unqualified success in Kawamura's performance. She deemphasises the ostinato accompaniment that dominates every bar of the movement, and plays the melody at a slow and dreamy tempo (actually slower than her tempo for the Einfach introduction to the first movement, whereas Clara Schumann's metronome marks indicate a faster one). The hesitations do however make this a very personal, almost mannered performance. The brief B-flat major Intermezzo interceding in the movement is played with vigour and clarity. The fourth movement (Innig—the heart of the Humoreske, arguably) is played with great warmth and frequent changes of tempo, but some of the prescribed intimacy is lost due to a lack of contrast to the third movement. In the fifth movement Sehr lebhaft Kawamura takes a slightly slower tempo than many others, not for want of technique but in order to bring out the two contradictory voices that make up the right-hand figurations, which reminded me on this occasion of a snake eating its own tail. It makes up in relentlessness for what it may lack in speed. The transition Mit einigem Pomp is well done with clarity and the right amount of bombast, and the sixth and final movement, titled only Zum Beschluss—a movement that often makes or breaks an interpretation—is done fairly well. As per usual there is a great deal of tempo variance, and much attention to detail and line, but what's missing is a deeper emotional connection: this music has a quiet desperation in its insistent pleading, and even some of the quality of a threnody, comparable to the end of e.g. the Dvořák Cello Concerto. Schumann seems unwilling to let the music end, letting every cadence grind to a halt without resolution, and when the end finally does come it has a sense of irrevocable loss alongside that of acceptance. That degree of overt emotionality seems to be beyond Kawamura's comfort zone.

That said, this is overall a valuable recording. I award it 3.5 Kater Murrs out of a possible five.
« Last Edit: October 14, 2018, 12:00:48 AM by amw »

Online Mandryka

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Re: Schumann: (Grande) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #1 on: October 09, 2018, 07:05:20 AM »
Have you heard Jörg Demus on fortepiano? From an LP, an amateur transfer. If not I can let you have it. I think it’s the only fortepiano recording at the moment.
« Last Edit: October 09, 2018, 07:08:09 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline bwv 1080

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Re: Schumann: (Grande) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #2 on: October 09, 2018, 07:26:49 AM »
Aside from my core trio of Kempff, Pollini and Lupu,  there is this Naxos recording combined with a nice set of variations from Reger


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Online Mandryka

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Re: Schumann: (Grande) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #3 on: October 09, 2018, 12:07:52 PM »
Have you heard Jörg Demus on fortepiano? From an LP, an amateur transfer. If not I can let you have it. I think it’s the only fortepiano recording at the moment.

There is another fortepiano recording, by Piet Kuijken.
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Offline amw

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Re: Schumann: (Grande) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #4 on: October 09, 2018, 12:36:02 PM »
Have you heard Jörg Demus on fortepiano? From an LP, an amateur transfer. If not I can let you have it. I think it’s the only fortepiano recording at the moment.
If this is the recording on MDG, then yes. I also have the Kuijken, and Paolo Giacometti on an 1847 Streicher (Channel Classics). I hope to eventually post listening reports.

Online Mandryka

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Re: Schumann: (Grande) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2018, 08:13:30 PM »
A comment by John Paul on humour in music

Quote
When he measures out the small world, as humour does, against the infinite world and sees them together, a kind of laughter results which contains pain and greatness. Whereas Greek poetry, unlike modern poetry, made men cheerful, humor, in contrast to the ancient jest, makes men partly serious; it walks on the low soccus, but often with the tragic mask, at least in its hand.

And three comments by Schumann on Humoreske

Quote
The whole week I sat at the piano in a state and composed, wrote, laughed, and cried; now you can find all this beautifully painted in my Opus 20, the great Humoreske

Quote
The Humoreske, I think, will please you; it is, however, a little funny and perhaps my most melancholy work.

Quote
Everything comes to me on its own, and it even seems to me sometimes that I could play forever and never come to an end.

And a comment by Schlegel which may be relevant

Quote
Irony is the clear consciousness of eternal agility, of an infinitely teeming chaos.



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Online Mandryka

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Re: Schumann: (Grande) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #6 on: October 09, 2018, 08:40:32 PM »
Yes you have the Demus I meant, amw. I haven’t heard it yet, indeed I haven’t heard any fortepiano recordings. One recording of this which excited my imagination is Claudio Arrau’s. Last night I listened to Vladimir Tropp, but despite the evident very high quality and depth of feeling, I found the sweet piano sound made it all sound slightly kitschy. Tropp was excellent at the counterpoint I thought, Chopinesque counterpoint at the start where melodies twirk around each other.  Franz Vorraber is even better at Schumann counterpoint, and he’s very good at the contrasts, I am interested in what he does - well worth getting hold I think. If someone could combine kitsch and irony in it that would be interesting , , , When it came up on rmcr a few years ago I remember really enjoying Demidenko, I’ll dig it out soon. I saw Demidenko play it in a lunchtime concert years and years ago, I think it’s the only time I’ve heard it performed.  I also enjoyed Ranki, a radio broadcast which I can let you have, same for Sokolov.

People who like Feinberg like Feinberg.

Vorraber and Arrau are my top choices I think.

Trovar’s Richter discography is offline right now so I can’t check, but I think all his recordings are early and in poor sound, which is a bummer because clearly he had an affinity for the contrasts. I’d certainly be interested in people’s comments on the best Richter performance of it.


« Last Edit: October 09, 2018, 09:24:17 PM by Mandryka »
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Online Mandryka

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Re: Schumann: (Grande) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #7 on: October 10, 2018, 08:52:49 AM »
This is Volodos playing it. The sound quality is dreadful, nevertheless it is just about bearable for me, once, and  I sense a great performance

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Offline Todd

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Re: Schumann: (Grande) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #8 on: October 13, 2018, 06:06:20 AM »
For two lesser discussed recordings by French pianists, one can consider Michel Dalberto and Olivier Chauzu.  I just listened to Dalberto's this past week, and it is mostly crisp and light, and while Dalberto doesn't shy away from his characteristic masculine style, his playing doesn't become (potentially) too powerful, and there is some poetry in there.  Chauzu is slower, heavier, more interventionist, and perhaps too ponderous at times, but it nonetheless works quite well.
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Offline amw

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Re: Schumann: (Grande) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #9 on: October 13, 2018, 11:36:22 PM »
<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/irSqIydc0ko" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/irSqIydc0ko</a>

On the strength of her competition performances and a minimal discography Yeol Eum Son has catapulted herself into the very highest ranks of living pianists. The only surviving Humoreske from her appears to be this one from the Tchaikovsky Competition, uploaded to youtube in click-filled but listenable form, although presumably it also exists in the competition's archives and will be issued on record at some fitting anniversary when she is more famous. Noticeable from the start is the incredible clarity of the contrapuntal lines and inner voices, the attention lavished on each individual note, and Son's innate keen ear for phrasing and large-scale structure. Also noticeable at times is a curious lack of direction, or perhaps her impatience with the music's lack of direction. Again I'm going to bring attention to Zum Beschluss—the most relentlessly repetitive movement in Schumann's piano music (although overall probably the finale of the Second Symphony would take the prize): dominated by its principal motif, an utterly banal turn figure, to an extreme degree; devoid of modulation during its 6 to 7-minute duration; where every cadence trails off into a pause. Repetition is at the heart of the Humoreske, and Son turns it into poetry (esp in the third movement Einfach und zart - Intermezzo), but here she speeds through the endless buildup of turn figures without a corresponding increase in emotional temperature, and only takes time to linger on the pauses when they come. Not that age necessarily means something, but it is instructive to compare the 25-year-old Son in this recording to the 45-year-old Imogen Cooper, recording the Humoreske for BBC Music Magazine in 1994, who gets through the movement even faster but in doing so builds up a painful intensity and longing that Son can't match.

This is a performance worth revisiting if only because there are no pianists on record playing the Humoreske with technique to match (although I imagine the live Volodos posted by Mandryka would be an exception). But I'm not sure Son quite had Schumann's temperature in 2011, or at least was willing to confront his psychology. I do hope she performs/records the Fantasie, Carnaval or Davidsbündlertänze at some point though.

Approx movement timings w comparisons

Einfach - 5:43 [Uhlig 6:25 - Cooper 4:31]
Hastig - 5:00 [Uhlig 5:13 - Richter 4:05]
Einfach und zart - 4:33 [Anderszewski 5:20 - Cooper 4:30]
Innig - 2:30 [Anderszewski 3:28 - Ashkenazy 2:20]
Sehr lebhaft - 1:50 / Mit einigem Pomp - 1:36 [Tropp 2:19 / 2:09 - Ashkenazy 1:41 / 1:32]
Zum Beschluss - 5:33 [Richter 7:40 - Cooper 5:13]

@ Mandryka: I have this recording. The sound is fine. The performance is also generally better, more considered and probably more radical, than the live 1955 version on e.g. Urania, although with many of the same idiosyncrasies (eg Richter on both occasions played the innere Stimme in the second movement even though it was not meant to be played but rather imagined by the pianist).
« Last Edit: October 14, 2018, 12:00:36 AM by amw »

Online Mandryka

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Re: Schumann: (Grosse) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #10 on: October 14, 2018, 03:09:07 AM »
Thanks, I’ll check the Richter.

Just randomly sampling here and there, I found myself drawn in to Ashkenazy’s  recording, I’d not heard it before and I was very impressed.

« Last Edit: October 14, 2018, 03:15:07 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline amw

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Re: Schumann: (Grosse) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #11 on: October 14, 2018, 03:16:09 AM »
Ashkenazy (I mean the 1972 one) would probably be my first recommendation for a newcomer to the work, if that makes sense.

Offline Todd

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Re: Schumann: (Grosse) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #12 on: October 14, 2018, 06:17:47 AM »
Ashkenazy (I mean the 1972 one) would probably be my first recommendation for a newcomer to the work, if that makes sense.


Yes, it does.  The all-Schumann twofer it is packaged in is a rather fine set that almost anyone interested in Schumann might want to hear.
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Offline amw

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Re: Schumann: (Grosse) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #13 on: October 17, 2018, 10:29:38 PM »


Nikolai Demidenko's 1997 recording is played with a high degree of bravura, both in convincing execution of the filigree piano writing and in creating beautiful piano sounds. His tempo choices are often wilfully heterodox—the opening Einfach is played at the same tempo as the following Sehr rasch und leicht, the opening theme of the Hastig about three times slower than the remainder of the movement, the Einfach und zart a slow rocking adagio, and so forth. Demidenko also follows Richter in actually playing the not-supposed-to-be-played Innere Stimme, but this—and the very slow tempo—make its absence from the reappearance of the theme at the end of the movement more poignant. Due to the tempi, much of the intensity and forward motion in these first three movements is instead created through carefully placed hesitations and accelerations, which do not correspond in the slightest to those marked in the score.

For a change, the fourth movement Innig is played at tempo (or even slightly above it), as is the fifth movement and transition. The warm openness of the Innig that makes it arguably the heart of the Humoreske is well brought out with few agogics other than dynamics, its rising lines corresponding with passionate crescendi. The Sehr lebhaft follows without a break, Demidenko choosing to see it & the following transition as part of the fourth movement (the liners refer to the Humoreske's "five movement structure", which is certainly debatable), and it is executed in fiery and rapid fashion to match the likes of Son and Ashkenazy. The final movement plays to Demidenko's strengths, opening out from a nonchalant beginning into a hushed, intimate plea filled with pregnant pauses, answered only by the Allegro final chromatic fanfare-cadence—which Demidenko begins tentatively and concludes perfunctorily, so that one cannot feel the musical argument has really ended, per se.

This is a top-tier recording despite any issues I might have with the performance. 4.5 vodka shots out of 5. If I recall correctly, originally a Mandryka recommendation (for the Novelletten, which are the pairing).

Online Jo498

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Re: Schumann: (Grosse) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #14 on: October 18, 2018, 12:02:28 AM »
Is there a German language source for "Große Humoreske"? I find only "Grande Humoresque" or sth. like that. The adjective would be oxymoronic so I wonder if this is an accident of a French edition or a joke by Schumann.
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline amw

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Re: Schumann: (Grosse) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #15 on: October 18, 2018, 12:07:52 AM »
I thought it was “Grande” as well, but it was apparently published without that adjective. “Große Humoreske” is from Schumann’s letters to Clara as far as I’m aware—I have not seen the original German but this is corroborated by Jörg Demus in the liner notes to his MdG recording. I imagine it was intended as poetic irony.

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Re: Schumann: (Grosse) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #16 on: October 18, 2018, 12:43:57 AM »
Thanks! This would be my interpretation as well.
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
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Online Mandryka

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Re: Schumann: (Grosse) Humoreske in B-flat, Op. 20
« Reply #17 on: Today at 05:21:43 AM »


Nikolai Demidenko's 1997 recording is played with a high degree of bravura, both in convincing execution of the filigree piano writing and in creating beautiful piano sounds. His tempo choices are often wilfully heterodox—the opening Einfach is played at the same tempo as the following Sehr rasch und leicht, the opening theme of the Hastig about three times slower than the remainder of the movement, the Einfach und zart a slow rocking adagio, and so forth. Demidenko also follows Richter in actually playing the not-supposed-to-be-played Innere Stimme, but this—and the very slow tempo—make its absence from the reappearance of the theme at the end of the movement more poignant. Due to the tempi, much of the intensity and forward motion in these first three movements is instead created through carefully placed hesitations and accelerations, which do not correspond in the slightest to those marked in the score.

For a change, the fourth movement Innig is played at tempo (or even slightly above it), as is the fifth movement and transition. The warm openness of the Innig that makes it arguably the heart of the Humoreske is well brought out with few agogics other than dynamics, its rising lines corresponding with passionate crescendi. The Sehr lebhaft follows without a break, Demidenko choosing to see it & the following transition as part of the fourth movement (the liners refer to the Humoreske's "five movement structure", which is certainly debatable), and it is executed in fiery and rapid fashion to match the likes of Son and Ashkenazy. The final movement plays to Demidenko's strengths, opening out from a nonchalant beginning into a hushed, intimate plea filled with pregnant pauses, answered only by the Allegro final chromatic fanfare-cadence—which Demidenko begins tentatively and concludes perfunctorily, so that one cannot feel the musical argument has really ended, per se.

This is a top-tier recording despite any issues I might have with the performance. 4.5 vodka shots out of 5. If I recall correctly, originally a Mandryka recommendation (for the Novelletten, which are the pairing).

This is a case where I think you’re cursed by knowing the score.  I’ve never seen the music, and what DemiD does is so natural sounding to me that I never imagined for one minute that he was making so many interventions! I just listened to it again after reading your post and even now you’ve averted me to it, I can hardly hear the agogics and rubato, it’s so organic.

I bet you’re too young to remember shirts with collars like this!

« Last Edit: Today at 05:25:23 AM by Mandryka »
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