SCHUMANN: Waldszenen; Kinderszenen; JANÁCEK: On the Overgrown Path (Book 1)
It isn’t often that Schumann and Janácek turn up on the same CD, but this new release from Canadian pianist and Boston resident Marc-André Hamelin juxtaposes “Waldszenen” and “Kinderszenen” with the first book of “On the Overgrown Path.” What’s more, Hamelin begins with the thorny, grief-stricken Janácek and works his way back, through Schumann’s storybook forest scenes to his evocation of (mostly) innocent childhood. It’s an intriguing journey, not least because you can hear, in Hamelin’s playing, how the two composers relate.
This “On the Overgrown Path” is slower, more atmospheric, and more nostalgic than the tough, bright, forthright performance Cathy Krier released last summer. The “Come with us!” polka is sad from the start; “Good Night!,” with its insistent repetitions, is bittersweet. The last three pieces reflect Janácek’s despair over the death of his 21-year-old daughter, Olga; “In Tears” is so childlike, it could almost be part of “Kinderszenen.” The liner note is more informative than Krier’s, though the author perpetuates the misidentification of the concluding number’s tawny owl as a barn owl.
Hamelin’s “Waldszenen” paints vivid pictures; of Schumann’s two invented alter egos, pensive Eusebius and passionate Florestan, he favors the former, offering a hesitant “Entrance,” a shy “Lonely Flowers,” and a delicate “Bird as Prophet.” The “Farewell” to the forest is wiser and a little sadder than the “Entrance.” “Kinderszenen” is full of impulse and spontaneous whimsy, from the galloping “Knight of the Hobby Horse” to the quick-marching “Important Event” that draws itself up to its full height. At times I wish Hamelin were more direct, but in this repertoire, all you can ask is that a pianist be true to himself.
JEFFREY GANTZJeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.