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Thread: Jorg Demus Plays Schumann

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    Junior Member Todd's Avatar
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    Default Jorg Demus Plays Schumann

    I love box sets; you get so much music for so little money. I know many people view box sets as the lazy way to build a collection, but not me. I view them as essential. After all, it seems that the only way to assess a given pianist’s Beethoven credentials is to listen to his or her interpretations of all of the Beethoven sonatas. (And can one never have too many Beethoven sonata recordings.) I use box sets for other reasons. One is to provide a survey of a large body of work to serve as a sort of baseline for those works. For instance, I have the complete Mozart symphonies conducted by Charles Mackerras. The performances are all very good to great, but, to be honest, I doubt I’ll listen to the early symphonies too much. Of course, I know not buy other versions, too.

    Another reason I love box sets is that they allow one to cheaply survey obscure works by great and sometimes obscure composers. For instance, I have Ashkenazy’s Chopin box and find it invaluable. Another I own is a real rarity: a survey of the complete solo piano music of Robert Schumann by Jorg Demus on Nuova Era. The 13-disc set serves the same purpose as the Chopin box, and is enlightening to say the least. Jorg Demus is one of those pianists that I had heard of but who I had never heard. Most of the little I have read of him has been positive, and the only recordings of him I knew about were as an accompanist. Clearly, anyone who undertakes a complete cycle of works must be devoted to the composer. And so it sounds.

    A couple quick notes on the box. The production values are not impressive. The Italian notes are brief and uninformative, and the English translations are often odd and replete with spelling and punctuation errors. All discs are labeled as digital recordings, but they are clearly analog, as the varying levels of hiss show. My guess is that these recordings were made in the 70s and early 80s. The recorded sound varies from surprisingly poor to slightly above average; on the whole, sound is acceptable.

    All of that is ultimately irrelevant, of course. What of the playing? Well, that varies, too. Some of the pieces come off wonderfully and some suffer in comparison to other recordings. In a complete set that is to be expected. There are some real gems here, though.

    I’ll start with the winners. If Demus cannot compete in some of the most famous works, he does well in some of the lesser works. Gesange der Fruhe may very well be the best performance of the lot. I prefer it to Pollini’s exceptional recording from a couple years ago. This is an outstanding performance. Demus plays every passage with feeling and insight and the requisite sense of unease that permeates Schumann’s late piano works. Bunte Blatter, too, is exceptional. If Demus lacks the precision and polish of Volodos or the power (both physical and emotional) of Richter, he makes up for it in other ways. The concluding movement comes off especially well, with a somewhat eerie feel to it. Waldszenen is another highlight, with Demus carefully creating a nicely atmospheric reading. Demus also offers compelling performances of two of the sonatas. The Op 22 sonata is an exceptional performance, possibly even great, and truly one of the best I’ve ever heard. The Concert sans Orchestre, here in its scherzo-fied version, is likewise terrific, able to compete with Pollini’s in all areas except technique. The Op 11 fares a little less well, but is good.

    In the more famous works Demus is at a relative disadvantage. With Cortot, Richter, Pollini, or any other great Schumann interpreter you care to mention out there as alternatives, one can do better. Not that Demus is bad, mind you. Most successful of the famous pieces are the Symphonic Etudes, Kinderszenen, Humoreske, and Novelletten. Demus may not have a sparkling technique or especially forceful presentation, but each of these kept me avidly waiting for the next passage. The Etudes are probably the best of the lot and are presented in original 12 variation form, with the five posthumous variations placed after the work. It is extremely effective.

    I listened to the Demus Carnaval about a month after buying Michelangeli’s 1975 EMI recording. Demus sounds crude and unprepared by comparison. Put him up against Cortot and the Frenchman’s romantic abandon simply overpowers this performance. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. That’s a problem. Likewise, his Fantasie suffers from not quite being fantastic enough, and the Davidsbundlertanze not dazzling enough. Oh sure, there is a notable difference between Florestan and Eusebius, but it’s not enough. His Kreisleriana is very good, and may improve in my estimation over time, but better can be had.

    Among the obscure works there are some nice pieces and some forgettable ones. The two sets of Paganini Etudes are enjoyable if not too profound, as are the Pedalfugel Etudes. The Op 5 Impromptus and Op 4 Intermezzi are good early works, worth the occasional spin. A real rarity is the Geistervariationen uber den letzten Gedanken, which Demus apparently helped discover and publish in 1973, and it is a good work, if not a masterpiece. If I probably will not be playing the entire Album fur die Jungend or the three late sonatas for children often, I am glad to have heard them. There are some other pieces that I have not listed here, some relatively known and some not, but for all you devout Schumann fans out there, they are worth hearing.

    Altogether, this set is an interesting find and warranted a listen. It contains a few outstanding performances, a boatload of good ones, some letdowns, and obscurities worth hearing. Not a critical purchase, perhaps, but if you can find it cheap, think about it. As to specific volumes in the set, volumes 4, 5, 6, 9 and 10 are the best bets to give a good idea of the virtues of the whole set.
    ---



    "The universe is change, life is opinion." Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

  2. #2
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    Todd

    Did you ever listen the great anthology of Schumann piano works by Yves Nat? I think you would be surprised.
    About Demus, I must say I prefer Schumann's complete solo piano music by Karl Engel.
    But, there are extraordinary isolated versions of the greatest works: to me the Papillons by Nat, Carnaval by Freire, Rubinstein, the Phantasiestücke by Argerich (in the Concertgebow), the Etudes Symphoniques by Richter, the 1rst Sonata by Pollini or Gilels, the Fantaisie by Pollini or Nat, the Humoresque by Nat or Engel, the Waldszenen by Haskil, and above all the Kreisleriana by Horowitz and Nat. Ah, and the Gesang der Frühe by Engel.

    Greetings









    I love box sets; you get so much music for so little money. I know many people view box sets as the lazy way to build a collection, but not me. I view them as essential. After all, it seems that the only way to assess a given pianist’s Beethoven credentials is to listen to his or her interpretations of all of the Beethoven sonatas. (And can one never have too many Beethoven sonata recordings.) I use box sets for other reasons. One is to provide a survey of a large body of work to serve as a sort of baseline for those works. For instance, I have the complete Mozart symphonies conducted by Charles Mackerras. The performances are all very good to great, but, to be honest, I doubt I’ll listen to the early symphonies too much. Of course, I know not buy other versions, too.

    Another reason I love box sets is that they allow one to cheaply survey obscure works by great and sometimes obscure composers. For instance, I have Ashkenazy’s Chopin box and find it invaluable. Another I own is a real rarity: a survey of the complete solo piano music of Robert Schumann by Jorg Demus on Nuova Era. The 13-disc set serves the same purpose as the Chopin box, and is enlightening to say the least. Jorg Demus is one of those pianists that I had heard of but who I had never heard. Most of the little I have read of him has been positive, and the only recordings of him I knew about were as an accompanist. Clearly, anyone who undertakes a complete cycle of works must be devoted to the composer. And so it sounds.

    A couple quick notes on the box. The production values are not impressive. The Italian notes are brief and uninformative, and the English translations are often odd and replete with spelling and punctuation errors. All discs are labeled as digital recordings, but they are clearly analog, as the varying levels of hiss show. My guess is that these recordings were made in the 70s and early 80s. The recorded sound varies from surprisingly poor to slightly above average; on the whole, sound is acceptable.

    All of that is ultimately irrelevant, of course. What of the playing? Well, that varies, too. Some of the pieces come off wonderfully and some suffer in comparison to other recordings. In a complete set that is to be expected. There are some real gems here, though.

    I’ll start with the winners. If Demus cannot compete in some of the most famous works, he does well in some of the lesser works. Gesange der Fruhe may very well be the best performance of the lot. I prefer it to Pollini’s exceptional recording from a couple years ago. This is an outstanding performance. Demus plays every passage with feeling and insight and the requisite sense of unease that permeates Schumann’s late piano works. Bunte Blatter, too, is exceptional. If Demus lacks the precision and polish of Volodos or the power (both physical and emotional) of Richter, he makes up for it in other ways. The concluding movement comes off especially well, with a somewhat eerie feel to it. Waldszenen is another highlight, with Demus carefully creating a nicely atmospheric reading. Demus also offers compelling performances of two of the sonatas. The Op 22 sonata is an exceptional performance, possibly even great, and truly one of the best I’ve ever heard. The Concert sans Orchestre, here in its scherzo-fied version, is likewise terrific, able to compete with Pollini’s in all areas except technique. The Op 11 fares a little less well, but is good.

    In the more famous works Demus is at a relative disadvantage. With Cortot, Richter, Pollini, or any other great Schumann interpreter you care to mention out there as alternatives, one can do better. Not that Demus is bad, mind you. Most successful of the famous pieces are the Symphonic Etudes, Kinderszenen, Humoreske, and Novelletten. Demus may not have a sparkling technique or especially forceful presentation, but each of these kept me avidly waiting for the next passage. The Etudes are probably the best of the lot and are presented in original 12 variation form, with the five posthumous variations placed after the work. It is extremely effective.

    I listened to the Demus Carnaval about a month after buying Michelangeli’s 1975 EMI recording. Demus sounds crude and unprepared by comparison. Put him up against Cortot and the Frenchman’s romantic abandon simply overpowers this performance. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. That’s a problem. Likewise, his Fantasie suffers from not quite being fantastic enough, and the Davidsbundlertanze not dazzling enough. Oh sure, there is a notable difference between Florestan and Eusebius, but it’s not enough. His Kreisleriana is very good, and may improve in my estimation over time, but better can be had.

    Among the obscure works there are some nice pieces and some forgettable ones. The two sets of Paganini Etudes are enjoyable if not too profound, as are the Pedalfugel Etudes. The Op 5 Impromptus and Op 4 Intermezzi are good early works, worth the occasional spin. A real rarity is the Geistervariationen uber den letzten Gedanken, which Demus apparently helped discover and publish in 1973, and it is a good work, if not a masterpiece. If I probably will not be playing the entire Album fur die Jungend or the three late sonatas for children often, I am glad to have heard them. There are some other pieces that I have not listed here, some relatively known and some not, but for all you devout Schumann fans out there, they are worth hearing.

    Altogether, this set is an interesting find and warranted a listen. It contains a few outstanding performances, a boatload of good ones, some letdowns, and obscurities worth hearing. Not a critical purchase, perhaps, but if you can find it cheap, think about it. As to specific volumes in the set, volumes 4, 5, 6, 9 and 10 are the best bets to give a good idea of the virtues of the whole set.[/QUOTE]

  3. #3
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    Todd

    Did you ever listen the great anthology of Schumann piano works by Yves Nat? I think you would be surprised.
    About Demus, I must say I prefer Schumann's complete solo piano music by Karl Engel.
    But, there are extraordinary isolated versions of the greatest works: to me the Papillons by Nat, Carnaval by Freire, Rubinstein, the Phantasiestücke by Argerich (in the Concertgebow), the Etudes Symphoniques by Richter, the 1rst Sonata by Pollini or Gilels, the Fantaisie by Pollini or Nat, the Humoresque by Nat or Engel, the Waldszenen by Haskil, and above all the Kreisleriana by Horowitz and Nat. Ah, and the Gesang der Frühe by Engel.

    Greetings

  4. #4
    Junior Member Todd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by val
    Todd

    Did you ever listen the great anthology of Schumann piano works by Yves Nat? I think you would be surprised.


    No, I haven't. I do have the Andante set of various soloists playing Schumann, and it has Nat's Fantasiestücke, Kinderszenen, and Faschingsschwank aus Wien, all from the 30s. I picked up Nat's LvB cycle a few months ago, and while a mixed bag, I find it quite good, so his Schumann is on my radar screen. I've not heard Engel and so will keep an eye out for him. I'll post a survey of Carnaval here shortly.
    ---



    "The universe is change, life is opinion." Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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