Music Reviews

Captivating the listener at all times

Schumann’s piano music is popular among pianists and audiences alike. Putting one’s stamp on any of the scores demands more than just playing all the notes as required by the composer. Easier said than done. What is meant by ‘Belebt, nicht zu rasch’ (animated, not too fast) in Gesänge der Frühe, Op. 133? It leaves the door wide open for a personal interpretation.  

Nicolas van Poucke distinguishes himself by taking his time and by observing numerous repeats Schumann added later to balance out the score. Measured against almost every other pianist in my comparison, van Poucke is slower, no matter whether a movement be marked ‘Langsam’, ‘Wild und Lustig, or ‘Aufgeregt’. However, and that is, to me, the sheer magic of his playing, he captivates the listener at all times, revealing emotional tension and lyrical prose that may have escaped other interpreters.

A gift few pianists can hope to achieve

His careful and well-considered approach to Schumann’s five ‘Gesänge der Frühe’ is a clear and most imposing example of van Poucke’s understanding and empathy for a composer whose feelings in this late work hover between poetry and Introspection. It sets a tone that resonates in the rest of the programme, making this release, like the previous one, irreplaceably wonderful. 

It is fascinating to discover how van Poucke identifies with Schumann’s feelings hidden in the Kreisleriana Op.16; describing a romantic soul borrowed from ETH Hoffmann’s Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler. It’s all about conflicting sentiments that can only be properly uncovered by someone who ‘understands’. Eschewing no single opportunity to draw the listener into a brilliantly shaded reading van Poucke makes this exciting tale come to life.  A gift few pianists can hope to achieve.

Touching account of personal emotions

The dualistic fictional story behind the Davidsbündlertänze is well-known (if not, it is described in detail in the excellent liner notes). With van Poucke we enter this world of phantasy, brimming with contrast and contradiction as though we are part of it. In his personal note, van Poucke lifts the veil of his ‘obsession’ (as he calls it) following his immersion “in Schumann’s musical universe”. What may at first glance look like a spiritual dose of entertainment is, in reality, a touching account of personal emotions. Not just offering suitable pianistics but having deep insight into Schumann’s emotional world of anguish and shyness is the right password here and that’s, as far as I’m concerned, exactly what Nicolas’ performance delivers.

Genius and delusion are two sides of the spirit

It is said that genius and delusion are two sides of a great spirit. We may assume that Schumann, an intellectual fighting with a growing mental disorder, belonged to that category. It gave him a superior degree of resourcefulness to music, though increasingly with an undertone of restrained melancholy. His tenure as Music Director in Dusseldorf was not a success. However, his deteriorated mental state did not prevent his creative mind from composing 5 variations on a theme he had heard ghosts playing around him: The Geistervariationen Op. WoO 24. It was to be his final completed composition with which Nicolas van Poucke concludes this Second Volume of The Schumann Collection. Masterly played by a talented pianist with a vision who has successfully “entered the Schumann world”. 

(I understand that there will be two more Volumes in this Schumann piano survey to look forward to).

A natural talent deserves the best natural sound

Although I do not want to say that there are no other first-rate readings of Schumann’s piano legacy, we must nonetheless admit that we have here a strong contender, recorded at the highest natural level that Brendon Heinst brings to us in 11.2MHz 1 bit in 5.1.4 channel immersive format. My listening is limited to 5.1 surround, which is already good enough. Do not hesitate.

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France. 

Copyright © 2023 Adrian Quanjer and

Written by

Adrian Quanjer

Adrian Quanjer is a site reviewer at HRAudio, with many years of experience in classical music. He writes from his country retreat at Blangy-le-Château, France. As a regular concertgoer, he prefers listening to music in the highest possible resolution to recreate similar involvement at home. He is eager to share his thoughts with like-minded melomaniacs at NativeDSD.


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