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Jens F. Laurson
WETA 90.9 FM Blog, December 2010

# 1 – New Release for Best Recordings of 2010

Tzimon Barto’s Haydn last year was on the “Almost” list. Nothing “almost” about this release for the Schumann anniversary. Talking with Wolfgang Rihm about the disc (which takes the two “Introduction & Allegros” for piano and orchestra (opp.92, 134) and joins them—literally—with the “Ghost Variations” to form sort of a piano concerto) we discovered and admitted that we both cried listening to it. I’ve heard the program on this disc (minus the wonderful Six Études in Canonic Form) a few times in concert as well and it never fails to move. Perversely, I’ve found the experience of the recording even more moving, but be that as it may, this is a stunning disc and my obvious top choice for 2010 (ionarts review here, originally reviewed on WETA).

Jens F. Laurson
Fanfare, November 2010

…the only CD that made me cry last year, Christoph Eschenbach’s and Tzimon Barto’s Schumann recording (Ondine), not the least because it doesn’t get any love from Steven E. Ritter (in [Fanfare] 33:6). I—and not only I—think it’s absolutely sublime how the two literally join Schumann’s two Konzertstücke for piano and orchestra with his last lucid composition, the “Ghost” Variations, into a new concerto of sorts. The Six Etudes in Canonic Form in Debussy’s transcription (from pedal piano to two pianos) is a treat, too.

Steven E. Ritter
Fanfare, July 2010

 Robert Schumann’s Introduction and Allegro appassionato (1849) and Introduction and Concert-Allegro (1853) were both written for Clara, the latter after the composer had suffered a nervous attack. It did not prevent him from conducting the work with his wife at the piano three months later that same year. It was offered for publication right before his final illness and was published the year after his death. Both pieces were quite well received in their day, though both have faded from our concert halls…What Christoph Eschenbach has attempted here is to create a pseudo-piano concerto from combining these pieces, op. 92 as the first movement and 134 as the last, with a completely ad-hoc insertion of Variations in E-flat on an Original Theme (“Geistervariationen”) for solo piano as the middle movement. Tzimon Barto evidently made this suggestion and agreed with the conductor as to the overall premise…Of course, if you are like me, you won’t listen to this in that manner anyway, and the tracking is not glued together in such a way to enforce any sort of formal prescription…The final Etudes in Canonic Form (arranged by Debussy for two pianos) is the most interesting thing here, with Barto partnered by the conductor in a subtle and much nuanced performance.

Jeremy Nicholas
Gramophone, June 2010

Eschenbach and Barto here make a delightful partnership.

Jens F. Laurson
Ionarts, March 2010

Where Christoph Eschenbach goes—Paris, Philadelphia, Hamburg, soon Washington—he brings along his record deal with Ondine. That’s an asset from which the NSO should benefit handsomely, because the recordings (most of them, at least) are not just superbly played and interpreted, but they’re even more imaginatively put together: chamber music next to large orchestra pieces, sometimes showcasing Eschenbach as a pianist, sometimes select musicians from his orchestra. Or his special friend, pianist Tzimon Barto, as he does on his latest disc—a studio recording with the North German RSO. The disc is all-Schumann, but with a program that reflects Eschenbach’s willingness to turn his back on standard programming and let a little fantasy reign. The two ‘Introduction & Allegros’ for piano and orchestra (opp.92 and 134) are—literally—joined by Schumann’s ‘Ghost Variations’ for solo piano.

I rarely cry listening to a CD. I did here, gladly, and without guilt for any of those tears. The Ghost Variations were written in the last, torn hours of Schumann’s presence on the here-side of sanity, created under heart-wrenching circumstances in his final lucid, intermittently hallucinatory moments. They Variations work perfectly as a slow movement and join the two Konzertst’cke on either side to form a complete piano concerto. Barto plays them with muscular romanticism of someone who can relate to the light and dark of late Schumann and indulge in it.

Bringing the disc to over 73 minutes playtime is another painfully gorgeous Schumann rarity, the Six Etudes in Canonic Form, op.56. If you haven’t heard them, or heard of, them, it’s probably because they were written for the pedal piano that was only very briefly en vogue. With the demise of that contraption (originally intended to ease practicing organ-playing at home by attaching pedals to an extant grand piano), those works written specifically for it sank into obscurity. Debussy caught a glimpse of these Etudes, though, and duly mesmerized (I imagine) transcribed them for two pianos. Eschenbach and Barto sit down to play them’and what a substantial little wonder they are to behold: The stringency of Bach infused with all the romantic essence of Echt-Schumann continues to leave me speechless every time I hear them. The whole album is clear contender for the ‘Best of 2010’ list.

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