pretty pleased with this purchase, a bargain-priced 4CD set that i picked up for half-price over the weekend. i've been wanting a good set of schumann for a while, and this set takes me back to the days when i was borrowing classical LPs from the georgetown branch of the dc public library and recording them onto cassette, this musta been some 15 years ago. claudio arrau's carnaval op. 9 on phillips, a young murray perahia's davidsbündlertänze op. 6 and fantasiestücke op.12 for CBS, and some crackly old turnabout or vox label recordings by walter klein, including my one of my favorites not included in this kempff set, faschingsschwank aus wien op. 26.
kempff does a mean final schubert sonata and also pretty nice readings of the late beethovens (tho not as great as gilels) so i assumed he'd do a more than competant schumann and so far i've not been disappointed. these are old recordings -- mostly early-to-mid 1970s but some as far back as 1967 -- so they don't always have super crisp modern production values but often have a nice warmth, like with the lovely chopinesque opening of the papillons op.2. the "preamble" of the carnaval op. 9 could be a little more fiery for my taste perhaps, the "pierrot" a little more woozey. tho i know the early pieces (opp. 1-28) the best and kempff concentrates on these because he considers them superior to schumann's later work, there's still plenty of stuff i don't know and look forward to discovering, including the fantasy op. 17 which i seem to remember as having the reputation as his single best solo piano work.
schumann is such a great melodist and like his student brahms he could concentrate so much into a turn of phrase, but he's also a miniaturist like chopin. this has me thinking now about distinctions between practitioners of the short form in romantic piano. surely as goethe was so dominant a figure in german poetry that he drove many subsequent would-be-poets into philosophy, beethoven's sonatas drove composers into shorter forms for piano. the collections of short pieces by chopin and schuman dwarf anything they accomplished in the sonata. (even schumann's great long piece for piano is the fantasy rather than any sonatas i think).
and yet chopin's mazurkas, for example, feel like complete whole while his 24 preludes are these flashes of brilliance that could each be fleshed out into its own full-length sonata i feel. so i guess the question i'm posing is the relation between thematic material and the feel for the whole, that is whether the short piece feels like a fragment or whole unto itself. brahms of couse got his piano sonata out of the way early and ended up with those collections of shorts late in his career (which i also have kempff doing but have never gotten into much). maybe i'll be listening for this stuff in the days to come.