Classical CD Reviews
“Carnaval” = SCHUMANN: Carnaval & Kinderszenen (adapted by Chris Colettti and Brandon Ridenour) – Canadian Brass – Opening Day
Published on September 18, 2013
“Carnaval” = SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9; Kinderszenen, Op. 15 (both adapted by Chris Colettti and Brandon Ridenour) – Canadian Brass – Opening Day ODR 7438 [Distr. by Naxos], 51:34 ***1/2:
Most folks probably don’t know that Ravel, at the behest of ballet star Vaslav Nijinsky, began an arrangement of Schumann’s Carnaval. The plug was pulled on the project after the Frenchman had arranged only four of the pieces (a total of about ten minutes of music). Ravel may have been relieved because while the job is fully professional as we’d expect, it was hardly inspired. Unlike Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a series of tone pictures that naturally lent themselves to Ravel’s particular talents, Schumann’s short character pieces are almost never pictorial but are instead musical portraits, some of them quite personal in feeling. In fact, Kinderszenen would seem to lend itself more readily to such arrangement, Szenen (“scenes”) being the operative word. Be that as it may, here we have arrangements of both works for brass, and while the results are never less than pleasant and sometimes actually spring little revelations on the listener, the disc is hardly indispensable.
Actually, the prominent dance rhythms in many of the Carnaval pieces mean that they sound well arranged for instruments usually associated with bright, up-tempo musical fare. But after a while, the ear tires of the concert-in-the-park treatment of Schumann’s largely intimate music. Or at least my ears do. So despite the fact that Schumann intended the work as a cycle, I hope he wouldn’t take offense if I suggested that this arrangement is best savored in batches.
Speaking of revelations, one of those comes with the bold attempt at arranging “Sphinxes,” the only unnumbered piece in the cycle. It’s a weirdly notated bit that most pianists don’t bother to play. “Sphinxes” is meant to be a set of riddles such as the Sphinx in Oedipus the King posed to Oedipus, if you remember your freshman literature. Apparently, “Sphinxes” is explained (in part) by No. 10 of the cycle, “A.S.C.H. – S.C.H.A.: Lettres Dansantes.” These dancing musical letters spell Asch, the town where Schumann’s fiancé Ernestine von Fricken hailed from. And, of course, the inversion “SCHA” is an abbreviated version of Schumann’s own name. (Musically speaking, “S” translates to E-flat and H to B natural.) Well, trying to play these Sphinxes results in a fairly hair-raising, ultramodern-sounding blat on the brass instruments, and this is one place in the score where I guarantee you’ll sit up and take notice.
Schumann’s fiery finale “Marche des Davidsbündler contre les Philstins” is a natural fit for the brass, of course, and makes for a stunning conclusion to the cycle even if some of the other pieces don’t work so well for me. This finale provides a good segue into Kinderszenen, which as I hinted above translates more successfully to brass sextet. “Hasche-Mann” (“Blind Man’s Bluff”), “Wichtige Begebenheit,” (“Important Event”), “Ritter von Steckenpferd” (“Knight of the Rocking Horse”), and “Fürchtenmachen” (“Frightening”) all create wonderful little vignettes that brass captures very well, especially the pell-mell antiphony of “Hasche-Mann.” Some of the pieces just don’t translate, though—like the most famous, Träumerei, which sounds maudlin in this treatment. But even so, there’s an old-fashioned, open-air wholesomeness to this music that, taken in the right doses and in the right contexts, has its charms. And the playing is superb, virtuosic in “Hasche-Mann,” tender and caressing in “Fast zu ernest” (“Almost too Serious”). This is probably not the way you’ll want to hear your Schumann on a regular basis, but if you like brass in general, and especially if you’re a fan of the magisterial Canadian Brass, give this a try.