Schumann: Kinderszenen (CD review)

Jacques Loussier Trio. Telarc TEL-32270-02.

The Jacques Loussier Trio, essentially a jazz ensemble, has been doing this kind of thing for a really long time, and Loussier himself for even longer. I've reviewed the Trio going back a decade and a half playing Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Handel, Mozart, Ravel, Satie, Vivaldi, you name it. Now, it's Schumann. Good choice.

The idea behind much of the Trio's work is to take familiar classical pieces and reinterpret them through the prism of jazz, giving them new life, new personal meaning. Loussier says of Kinderszenen, "This particular work by Schumann is ideal for reinterpretation in a jazz setting. Childhood is perhaps the most playful and carefree time of one's life. In the same sense, jazz is perhaps the most imaginative and carefree kind of music ever composed. It only makes sense, then, to reinterpret the compositions by Schumann that capture the most memorable and cherished moments of his youth."

Loussier goes on to say, "When I prepare the music, I write down the principle part of the theme before the recording process begins, but it's not fully realized until we are in the studio and recording. I rearrange and change things, and I discover new things in the process."

The current members of the Jacques Loussier Trio have been working in the jazz and classical fields for quite a number of years: Benoit Dunoyer de Segonzac, bass; Andre Arpino, drums; and Loussier, piano. Loussier himself has been exploring the classics and jazz since the 1950's, to give you an idea of extent of his experience.

Anyway, here they play one of the most-celebrated works of German composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856), the thirteen-piece piano cycle Kinderszenen, "Scenes from Childhood," that he wrote in 1838 in memory of his own youth.

These are mostly gentle readings, always true to the composer's intent, never inflated, never glamorized or revved up. Of course, they don't sound like your usual Schumann, either, which is the point. It's the best of both worlds, classical and jazz, scripted and improvisational coming head to head, with Schumann none the worse for wear.

Among the selections, the opening piece, "Of Foreign Lands and Peoples," gets things underway in a lightly gratifying way. "An Important Event" has a keenly mysterious air about it. The centerpiece, however, is "Traumere" ("Dreaming"), the most-famous segment in the set. Loussier plays it longingly, lovingly, as the only solo on the album. While he perhaps tinkles extemporaneously with it a little too long, beginning to wear out its welcome, it still comes off with heartfelt emotion. The rambunctious "Knight of the Rocking Horse," with its showcase for percussion, makes for playful fun; and "Frightening" is, well, frightening. They're all imaginative reworkings and worth investigating.

Recorded at Studio du Palais des Congres, Paris, France, and released by Telarc in 2011, the sound almost overshadows the performances, it's so good. As always, the three instruments appear fully defined, with plenty of air around each one. The performers are practically in the listening room with you. The piano is out front, figuratively and literally, offering a firmly realistic tone. The drums are solid, with a crisp transient impact, and the cymbals extend the response nicely. The engineers give the players a pleasantly resonant acoustic to work in, thus ensuring they don't produce a sterile sound but a perfectly natural one, if maybe just a tad too reverberant. Wonderful listening, though.

If I have any reservations at all, it's that Telarc provide only about forty-seven or so minutes of total playing time, about average, I suppose, for a pop album but not quite what one expects from even a crossover classical disc.


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