29 September 2013


Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy is one of Brilliant Classics’ most remarkable artist discoveries. He contributed invaluably to their Schumann and Brahms series, and now Brilliant has offered him the chance to show off his skills in a small collection of Chopin favorites. This set doesn’t give great value, perhaps - one CD is 54 minutes, the other 42 - but the quality of performance is certainly high enough to justify a purchase.

What’s most striking about Schmitt-Leonardy’s pianism is its vibrancy and immediacy. Take the Preludes: he tackles the quicker ones with aplomb, and generally allows only very short pauses between them. The more lyrical works, like Nos. 4 or 13, are not shortchanged in this vision. Nor is the famous “Raindrop” prelude, here stretching out to nearly six minutes, a marvel of fragile beauty with a powerful central climax. One mark of the pianist’s style is an especially strong left hand (the bass notes in No. 17 ring out ominously).

In other words, unlike some artists, Schmitt-Leonardy doesn’t try to impose a single style on Chopin’s music. Prelude No. 20, maybe my favorite of all, has a steely resolve and in its pulse it has a classical rigor. But for all that precision, the profound softness the pianist achieves in the second half is breathtaking.

That combination of seriousness and sensitivity carries over to the Ballades, unusually cogent in structure and not prone to wallowing. Indeed, nobody I’ve ever heard rushes through the beginning of No. 4 the way that Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy does. And “rush” is the right word. But he’s not wrong: Chopin’s score says “Andante con moto,” not “Largo,” and when the brief intro passage reappears mid-movement (5:50), its tempo fits seamlessly into the fabric. Plus, Schmitt-Leonardy phrases the themes of this work like a barcarolle, or maybe a song without words. Only the final coda feels studied, lacking intensity.

The Impromptus are not my favorite Chopin works, but these are winning performances of them, in part because they are fleet-fingered and light-hearted. There’s no attempt to puff these pieces up with profundity, aside from the heroic central climax of No. 2. Schmitt-Leonardy instead applies his usual clarity of vision, and his usual combination of precision and empathy.

Recorded sound on both discs is state-of-the-art. The second disc, containing the Preludes is licensed from Piano Classics, which released the performance a few years ago, coupled with a piano sonata. Why Brilliant licensed only half that CD is a mystery to me; there is plenty of room in this set for both of the Chopin sonatas, had they wanted to include them. The new recordings (2015) sound just as good as the licensed ones. Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy has proven himself a splendid Chopin pianist with original ideas and technical prowess too. I look forward to whatever he chooses to record in the future.


CD-Besprechung im deutschen Magazin "Piano News"

So erfrischend rein und sprechend kann Chopin sein: Der saarländische Pianist Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy legt eine Doppel-CD vor die eine Wiederveröffentlichung der 2012 eingespielten und zu Recht vielgelobten Préludes op. 28 enthält und nun seine bestechende Interpretation der vier Balladen und hinzufügt. Sein Chopin zeugt von vollendeter Spielkultur– zurückhaltend, doch nicht sentimental, mit leidenschaftlichen Ausbrüchen, doch ohne Effekthascherei. Mit noblem Anschlag und stets ausgewogener Gewichtung von Hauptmelodie und Begleitendem. Wunderbar gestaltet, phrasiert und mit dem rechten Maß an Kantablem und Dramatischem. Seine Farbvielfalt ist beeindruckend, sein Ausdruck klar. Verzögerungen natürlich und ohne zu vernebeln. Dieser Chopin steht an der Seite von Krystian Zimerman oder Grigory Sokolov. Wunderbar.

(Isabel Fedrizzi in Piano News 3/2016)

Schmitt-Leonardy's Stimulating Chopin (Classicstoday)

Schmitt-Leonardy’s Stimulating Chopin Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 9 Sound Quality: 9

In his recording of Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy achieves a fusion of impassioned ardor and classical textual rigor that is immediately evident in No. 1’s subtle changes in voicing and ample ritards. Schmitt-Leonardy highlights No. 2’s jarring dissonances and spices up No. 3’s suave surface of left-hand arpeggios with sharply accented right-hand upbeats. The pianist manages to project an even, long-lined trajectory in No. 4, yet close listening reveals that not one bar is exactly in the same tempo.

By taking seriously Chopin’s indications for using and abstaining from the sustain pedal, Schmitt-Leonardy uncovers No. 5’s intricate cross-rhythms, along with unusual inner voices. The broadly sustained No. 6 contains more pronounced than usual dynamic contrasts between the hands. By pedaling through the rests, Schmitt-Leonardy implies that each of No. 7’s phrases begins on a downbeat, rather than the preceding upbeat as marked (Pollini’s first recording gets this detail right). However, No. 8 is a winner with its beautifully sculpted textural layers, where even Schmitt-Leonardy’s reversed dynamics and occasional left-hand anticipations sound authentic. So does No. 9’s slightly animated tempo and unusual stress of the left-hand dotted rhythms.

No. 10’s flickering runs may not match the light and supple leggero touch of Moravec or Argerich, yet Schmitt-Leonardy’s emphatic articulation helps make their alternating triplet and duplet rhythms distinct. He takes No. 11’s Vivace marking at face value, and wisely tempers Chopin’s uniform legato directive with a few tellingly placed detached phrasings. No. 12’s syncopated phrase groupings read well here, although not to the revelatory effect of Alexandre Tharaud’s scrupulous pedaling and unusual emphasis of the middle section’s Mazurka allusions. Schmitt-Leonardy’s intensity somewhat neutralizes in the lyrical Nos. 13, 15, and 17, but No 14’s unison octaves generate dynamism and harmonic tension. Playful accents and discreet pedal effects help enliven No. 16’s virtuosic assurance and élan.

Schmitt-Leonardy’s performance of the melodramatic No. 18 is remarkable. He is one of the few pianists to play the unison octave lines in tempo so that one can perceive the metrical distinctions between measure seven’s 16 even notes and measure eight’s tuplet of 22 notes in the time of 16. He also brings out the rarely observed diminuendos before the sforzando chords. Furthermore, the pianist underlines the final bars’ dramatic intensity by playing measure 18’s fortissimo 16th-note triplets strictly in tempo with the dry, biting staccato that Chopin indicates, then courageously waiting out those often shortchanged five beats of rest preceding the final two chords.

Following a measured and ample-toned No. 19, No. 20 unfolds a bit faster than expected, although a small, miscalculated diminuendo on measure five’s last beat telegraphs the sudden drop to piano at measure five. A genuine dialogue between the hands helps to justify No. 21’s expansive and flexible tempo. In No. 22, I applaud Schmitt-Leonardy’s decision to underplay the fortissimo left-hand repeated-note octaves in order to better clarify the right-hand chords’ difficult-to-execute diminuendos. If No. 23 is slightly too loud and square next to its more poetic and supple competitors, No. 24’s big-boned profile and golden tone evoke Arrau’s similarly majestic performance.

Schmitt-Leonardy’s account of the B-flat minor sonata is not so consistently persuasive, yet many details beckon your attention, not the least of them being the first movement’s terse expressive economy and unusual exposition repeat that recapitulates the Grave introduction—a more plausible and harmonically logical alternative to the score’s repeat sign at the Doppio movimento. In the Scherzo I’m not quite sold on Schmitt-Leonardy’s overly stretched out Trio section, while his slight broadening of tempo for the outer sections’ treacherous chord/octave skips seems to be a decision borne out of risk aversion.

The Funeral March is grippingly slow and rock steady, and astute listeners will pick up on the unusual, almost stabbing effect of the low-register trills (measures 19 and 20 and elsewhere) as they begin on the downbeats rather than anticipating the measure as we often hear. While the celebrated “wind over the grave” Finale is not particularly fast (it’s more of a Molto allegro than a Presto, to my ears at least), you cannot help but notice Schmitt-Leonardy’s fanciful yet musically illuminating phrase groupings and accentuations, not to mention his added bass octave on the final measure’s B-flat downbeat. In sum, the best of Schmitt-Leonardy’s Chopin adds up to a stimulating and compelling listening journey well worth traveling, even if you’ve heard these works hundreds of times.

- See more at: http://www.classicstoday.com/review/schmitt-leonardys-stimulating-chopin/#sthash.hBpK8zmH.dpuf

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