Coming soon: Deljavan’s new Schumann CD

by Michael Johnson Michael Johnson is a music writer and critic with special interest in piano. He spent nine years on the board of the London International Piano Competition and has written extensively on music for leading publications, including the International New York Times, Clavier Companion, The Washington Times, American Spectator and the website Facts & Arts. He spent four years in Moscow as a correspondent and also worked as a journalist in Paris, London and New York. 14.03.2015

Alessandro Deljavan, the charismatic Italian pianist whose playing created a sensation at the 2013 Cliburn International Piano Competition, has produced his much-anticipated CD of Robert Schumann works. Distribution is scheduled for the end of this month.

I have had the privilege of hearing an advance copy of this selection, which spans Schumann’s tortured life from his earliest to his latest solo piano compositions.

Deljavan’s keyboard control leaves the listener marvelously afloat as he executes virtuoso passages with apparent ease, then pauses in silence between his well-shaped phrases.

Of all the pleasures on this CD, the Fantasia in C Minor, Op. 17, stands out among ten tracks. Schumann himself called the first movement the “most impassioned” he ever wrote. Deljavan is confident in his execution and true to Schumann’s view. The second movement puts the pianist through many hoops, the most challenging of which are the leaps in the coda. A pianist friend who heard this CD with me pronounced the climax as “one of the most incredible demonstrations of piano technique on CD”.

The dream-like third movement has been called one of the most beautiful meditations in music, a fitting description considering the quote from German poet Friedrich von Schlegel that Schuman added to the score: “Through all the varied sounds that fill the world’s many-colored dreams, one whispered tone may be faintly heard by those who listen in secret.” Again, Deljavan rises to the occasion.

The CD leads off with the early Variations on the Name Abegg, Op. 1, whose four movements invite Deljavan to exercise a tasteful combination of cantabile lyricism, and a rubato so sensitive as to seem from another era of pianism.

Also on the disc is the 12-part Papillons, Op. 2, which Schumann completed the year after the Abegg Variations. The brief and charming dance movements trail off at the end as the dancers fade away.

The heart-rending Gesänge der Frühe (Songs of Dawn) was Schumann’s final piano work, composed while already in serious mental decline. With great effort, he held his illness at bay sufficiently to complete the five movements but was institutionalized just four months later. Deljavan shines particularly in the second movement in D Major, a contrapuntal piece in which no voice is lost. In the fourth movement, Deljavan brings his song-like touch to the melodic theme.

Deljavan has conquered this difficult repertoire in part by his own extraordinary technique but mainly by diligent research. Contrary to many young pianists, he seeks the true meaning of a score, in this case spending days and weeks unearthing all available editions, including the autograph text of these Schumann gems.

Deljavan is a mature interpreter yet still in the early years of his career. As his discography grows, so will his audience. His Cliburn experience left a mark on the piano world greater than that of other contestants, including the winners. (See “The Art of Joy”

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