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Franz Liszt: Sonata in B minor, S. 178
Robert Schumann: Kinderszenen, opus 15

Joseph-Maurice Weder (piano)
Recording: Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany (May 10-12, 2017) – 54’43
MDG 904 2041-6 – Notes in English, French and German

MDG (which stands for Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm) is an audiophile label founded in 1978 and based in Detmold, Germany. As the booklet states, their “recordings are produced with natural acoustics of specially chosen concert halls...(without) any sort of sound modifying manipulation.” In this case, the space is in an old abbey in a small town in North Rhine-Westphalia, and the sound captured is rich and immediate - in fact, it is almost startling the way the piano sounds right in my living room.

29-year-old Swiss pianist Joseph-Maurice Weder displays marvelous dexterity and nuance, but (isn’t there always a “but”?) he arguably lacks the ultimate measure of excitement. Both pieces have been extensively recorded and a discussion of comparisons could go on and on. A comparison with Sviatoslav Richter (Philips 446 200-2) shows that while Weder beautifully and clearly lays out the drama inherent in Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, Richter gives it a propulsion that takes it to the edge of recklessness. (And it is arguably not Richter’s best recording of the work. And then there's Argerich and Louis Lortie, etc, etc.)

Weder’s Kinderszenen is limpid and loving, each of the 14 sections nicely defined. The charismatic chestnut Träumerei is truly dream-like, and the quiet ending Der Dichter spricht, melts into the ether. Overall, though, he takes things very slowly. One comparison is with Mieczyslaw Horszowski (BBC Legends, recorded in 1986 when the pianist was 93) who plays it in 16 minutes compared to Weder’s 21'30".

Note that both the Richter and Horszowski performances are live. Weder’s performances might have had more of an extroverted push had there been an audience. Still, the recording is warm and intimate and would serve as a lovely introduction to both works. Then the listener can start delving into other performances, a pleasant pursuit that could go on and on.

In true audiophile fashion, the booklet also includes information on the piano: it is a Hamburg Steinway from 1901, #100398, recently refurbished under Manfred Bürki.

Michael Johnson




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