The year 2010 marked the 200th anniversary of the births of Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann, two great Romantic composers who were also friends and colleagues. Indeed, when Chopin appeared on the musical scene, Schumann wrote in his 1831 review, "Hats off, gentlemen, a genius!" While Chopin's regard for Schumann was a little less enthusiastic, for their artistic aims and sensibilities were dissimilar, the two were respectful of each other's music and professional standing. All the same, keyboard techniques and the composition of etudes with high musical and emotional values occupied them both. Chopin's performances of his 12 highly varied Etudes, Op. 10, certainly impressed Schumann, whose Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 and Op. post., shared the basic conception of etudes as evocative character pieces, as opposed to dry exercises. Schumann's work, however, has its own distinctive design as a set of variations on a theme. Pairing these works on a CD is not only an excellent way to celebrate the composers' birthdays, but Berlin Classics also allows a side-by-side comparison in this reissue of Ragna Schirmer's 2002 and 2005 recordings, and leaves it to the listener to judge the extent that Chopin's etudes influenced Schumann. Schirmer's physical ease at the piano gives her great freedom of expression and technical brilliance, and her deep understanding of the composers' intentions allows a wider range of moods and impressions than a mere virtuosic display would permit. The strong identities of Chopin and Schumann are clearly presented, and Schirmer's playing of the former is effervescent and bright, while the latter receives a strikingly somber treatment. Berlin Classics offers consistently close-up and vibrant sound in both recordings, so the combination works remarkably well.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Etudes, Op. 10|
|Symphonic Studies in Form of Variations, Op. 13|