Called 2010 Chopin-Schumann Anniversary Edition this beautifully recorded SACD set is the second release by Schliessmann I have had the fortune to review. His Goldberg Variations (Bayer 100326, Mar/Apr 2008) already was one of my Critics Choices for the year. Given my often reinforced memory of his superb Bach pianism, this immediately caught my attention, and I listened to this first among this issue’s review items. It is his first release on an American label, and it is beautifully packaged, with exemplary notes by Schliessmann (in German). There is an essay-interview with Schliessmann on this music in English by Peter Rabinowitz. I would have preferred a good English translation of Schliessmann’s actual complete essay, since it elaborates on the pianist’s feelings for each of the selections.
Rarely does any pianist communicate the essence of Chopin with such an individual conviction as I hear in these stunning performances. These late works are probably some of the greatest ever composed for the piano. To perform them well requires both exceptional pianistic skills and a remarkable intellect. Schliessmann arrives at his own unique interpretations, with reverence for the past (Cortot, Michelangeli, Rubinstein, and Horszowski especially). While each phrase is impeccably shaped, there is an overall thrust to each work that holds everything together. He uses rubato sparingly, and while he embraces the virtuosity in the music, it never overrides other musical content. After a half century of listening to a number of these works, I must say that Schliessmann shed new light on most of them. His is rarefied Chopin and needs to be heard by all music lovers.
The second disc combines a Bach Partita 2 that is on the same level as his Goldberg Variations with a thrilling performance of Schumann’s Kreisleriana. Only Horowitz seems as able to capture the impulsive, rather chaotic character of this work. Where Schliessmann gave Chopin a firm classical grounding, he shifts gears easily to convey the quirky, confused nature of late Schumann, which is truly another world of romantic piano music.
The Bach, after a dramatic French Overture opening, proceeds through the stylized dances with flair, personality and sentiment. The clarity of articulation, phrasing choices, and subtle dynamic shadings make a compelling argument that Bach can be played on the piano. The baroque master himself would undoubtedly fully embrace Schliessmann’s performance. I feel that way about the whole release. Not to be missed!