Kreisleriana op. 16; Arabeske op. 18; Vogel als Prophet op. 82 no. 7 (Artur Rubinstein)
Of all the tales of Hoffmann none is odder than that his character Kreisler, and hence Schumann's op. 16, had something to do with Ludwig Böhner; otherwise unremembered. The sleeve-note here tells us that this music actually makes clear the spiritual connection between Böhner and Kreisler, which could certainly do with some clarification. According to the composer's own story, his work was autobiographical. Rubinstein's expressive reading surely tells us more of Schumann's own character than Hoffmann's, with Clara as leading lady, and the usual supporting cast including Chopin (the mazurka in no. 5) and Schubert (the waltz in no. 6). The ebullient lyricism of this performance adds a further idea-the pianist Schumann unwittingly rehearsing for his year-long song-recital of 1840-1. Confirmatory pre-echoes resound. No. 2 bequeaths its last three bars to the first song of the Liederkreis op. 24; no. 4 anticipates the postlude of Dichterliebe op. 48. The whole. work begins as op. 48 no. 8 ends, in a tumult of frustration and despair. If that analogy is apt, the right-hand semiquavers should make the running, while the left hand marks time; that effect sounds somewhat out of phase here. Similarly in op. 18, described by Schumann as weak and feminine, the middle sections seem disconcertingly prominent. But otherwise both works are played exactly as they were entitled to be. Kreisleriana becomes a collection of improvised confidences, inspired table-talk. Op. 18 too sounds designedly intricate and intimate, in the Coleridgean sense of “a mere Arabeske or undeciphered characters of an unknown tongue”. Rubinstein shows us how each exemplifies that uniquely Schumannian form, the song-cycle without words.
Perhaps the idea of melodic language prompted the woodland bird as an encore. Whatever it was prophesying at the time (Siegfried Act 2, perhaps 7) it now sounds fittingly tense and wary, with a beady-eyed glitter; well-meaning but ill-omened, a warning voice from the dark.
Not everyone, I know, fancies Schumann's work thus illustrated. But if you feel that these ideas and images really are there and really are his, not Hoffmann's or Böhner's or anyone else's, then you will especially relish this record by a great artist who can draw them from the music, to the life.
The Musical Times, Jan., 1971 (p. 42) © the estate of eric sams