Robert Schumann not only was a master of the piano miniature, but he also had a knack for assembling such pieces into well-ordered compilations. As a result, Bunte Blätter’s 14 pieces and the 20 from Albumblätter comprise effective cycles, although their individual pieces certainly can be played out of context. What is more, the Johann Nepomuk Tröndlin 1830 fortepiano heard in this recording adds a welcome cutting edge and timbral differentiation to the frequent octave doublings and busy middle-register inner lines so typical of Schumann’s keyboard writing, helped of course by Tobias Koch’s persuasive and committed interpretations.
In Bunte Blätter he unravels the Praeludium’s arpeggios to fiery and coloristic effect, and makes the most of the Scherzo’s cross-rhythmic phrasing. Unlike what we hear in the modern concert grand’s generally uniform sonority, here, in Ziemlich langsam (track 4), the muted quality of the right-hand melody strikingly contrasts with the twangier left-hand accompaniment. Among Op. 124’s revealing details, notice No. 9’s rarely-brought-out imitative writing, as well as Koch’s refusal to sentimentalize or fawn over Wiegenliedchen or the once-frequently-played Schlummerlied.
As a bonus, three rare Brahms album leafs follow, including two that apparently have not been previously recorded. Of the two Theodor Kirchner pieces, I prefer the strange, inconclusive Intermezzo over his memorial tribute to Schumann based on the fourth piece from his colleague’s Waldszenen. Lastly, Woldemar Bargiel’s concluding Albumblätt is essentially a Schumann piece minus the memorable tunes and piquant harmonies. Koch’s vividly informative annotations discuss these works in the context of Schumann’s life and career.