Robert Schumann is one of the titans of the piano literature. He wrote a huge amount of music for the piano; everything from sonatas, to character pieces to works for piano and orchestra. The amount of music he wrote for the instrument is indeed vast and runs the gamut of emotions; everything from the introspective and pensive piano works to fiery and passionate show pieces. The idea of recording of all of his piano music seems like a veritable Mount Everest of a task.
German pianist Florian Uhlig has done just that. Over several years Uhlig has taken it upon himself to take the deepest of dives into the piano world of Schumann, very successfully recording all of his piano music on 19 CDs for the Hänssler Classic Record Label.
For his work with Schumann’s music, Uhlig has just recently been shortlisted for the Schumann prize from the city of Zwickau, Schumann’s birthplace. This is a very prestigious prize that is given out every two years. Past winners have included Alfred Brendel, Kurt Mazur, Emil Gillels, and Daniel Barenboim.
Uhlig gave his first solo recital at the age of 12, and went on to study at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music in London. Since graduating he has embarked on a very fruitful career performing both as a soloist and chamber musician. He has performed with the Dresden Philharmonic, Munich Symphony Orchestra, NBC Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Chamber Orchestra to name just a few. He also performed as a chamber musician with the legendary baritone Hermann Prey, cellist Alban Gerhardt, and renowned oboe player Céline Moinet amongst many others. He is currently on faculty at the Musikhochschule Lubeck where he is a Professor of Piano.
Recording all of Schumann’s music has taken Uhlig many years to accomplish. As Uhlig explains, “When we started in 2010 the idea was to record everything…but little did we know when we embarked on this project that was originally to be intended to be 14 CDs… tas we went along we discovered more and more music so it ended up being 19 CDs.”
The recordings are not done in chronological order. Uhlig and Hänssler decided to put the individual CDs together in a way that tells the story of who Schumann was. For example, there is a CD that deals with Schumann the young virtuoso. There is also a CD that deals with his experiences in Vienna, a CD that deals with music inspired by the great German writer and poet E.T.A. Hoffman, as well as various discs that deal with the sonatas, and piano miniature cycles. “There are different themes and different topics. The CDs have been arranged rather in that particular order…to give us a story of who Schumann really was as an artist, and as a human being,” states Uhlig.
Throughout the 19 CDs that make up this set, Uhlig consistently plays with the utmost style and beauty that this music demands, while at the same time creating some wonderful pianistic colors and contrasts. Soft dynamic levels are always played with the most care and delicacy, and the louds are performed with great power, without the sound of the piano every getting ugly and hard to listen to.
A big bravo should also go to the studio engineers at Hänssler Classic for recording Uhlig’s piano and making the performances sound amazing. Nothing is ever lost in the recording and while you are listening you are swept away into the wonderful intimate sound world of Schumann. A world that is very well worth exploring on these recordings! Let Florian Uhlig be your guide!