Raving Review in MUSICWEB-INTERNATIONAL.COM

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.

Brian Reinhart in MUSICWEB-INTERNATIONAL:COM 2016

CD-Besprechung im deutschen Magazin "Piano News"

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Klavierabend beim International Piano Festival Miami/Mai 2013

Schmitt-Leonardy is an intellectual pianist. His music making is never less than thoughtfully conceived and refreshingly devoid of excessive bombast but he is not the most idiomatic of Chopin players. Employing minimal rubato, Schmitt-Leonardy sought to cleanse the preludes of salon niceties. His carefully calibrated interpretations were less concerned with rhythm and pulse than emotional undercurrents.

Still, Schmitt-Leonardy proved more than equal to Chopin’s innumerable technical hurdles. He can play at the most extreme speed with clarity and accuracy. Throughout the cycle, Schmitt-Leonardy brought admirable transparency and precision with a digital command that never calls attention to itself.

In his most persuasive performance of the evening, Schmitt-Leonardy imbued Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses with a Brahmsian weight and gravity. There was an inexorable sweep and broad momentum in this masterful rendition of one of Mendelssohn’s atypically sober works as well as a kaleidoscopic sense of color.

Dmitri Kabalevsky was a composer much favored by the Soviet musical establishment who considered him an appropriately lightweight antidote to the angst-ridden scores of Shostakovich and the harmonically daring works of Prokofiev.

Schmitt-Leonardy offered nine of Kabalevsky’s Preludes, Op. 38. Written in 1944, these pieces are based on Russian folk songs, dressed up as slick vehicles for virtuosic display. There is a monochromatic sameness and superficiality to the melodies, which lack even the heated sensuality or toe-tapping catchiness of Khachaturian’s best work. These vapid cameos gave Schmitt-Leonardy the opportunity to display his formidable technical arsenal, the rapid hand-crossings and muscularity of the final prelude particularly impressive.

Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 3 is replete with jagged rhythms and seemingly lyrical episodes that turn harmonically astringent. Schmitt-Leonardy’s crisp articulation of the toccata-like rhythms captured the primitive drive of this youthful vehicle. Finding darker, more tragic shades in the quieter episodes, his sound became almost symphonic in the furiously paced Scherzo section. In the finale, Schmitt-Leonardy threw restraint to the winds, playing at acclerating speed down to the final thunderous chord. ...weiterlesen

CHOPIN-CD

Lieben Sie Chopin? Eines ist klar: Viele Wege führen zu diesem Komponisten. Ausgesprochen revolutionär ist die hier eingeschlagene Richtung freilich kaum (muss es auch nicht sein). Man vernimmt jedenfalls einen Pianisten, der Chopin verstanden hat. Das ist schon enorm viel. Mit Gefühl, ohne allerdings je ins Gefühlige oder gar Kitschige abzudriften, gestaltet Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy die kleinen, kompakten Formen der 24 Préludes op. 28. Vom ersten Takt an schwingt und singt diese Musik. Jedes Stück erhält auch in der Farbe sein eigenes Profil, und beim Hören wird einem nie langweilig. Dieser an der Hochschule in München lehrende Saarländer darf als Geheimtipp gelten. Er ist ein Klavierlyriker und Ausdrucksmusiker, der auf Tastendonner und Geklingel verzichten kann. Motorik (Nr. 3, G-Dur) und Furor (Nr. 16, b-Moll) aber sind, wo erforderlich, bündig zur Stelle. Das Des-Dur-Prélude changiert zwischen Traumsphäre und Trauermarsch. Immer wieder landet man bei der Kantilene, ehe der Zyklus kompromisslos in der Aporie endet. Die b-Moll-Sonate geht der Spieler ziemlich impulsiv an. Gleichwohl entdeckt er das Melos im Scherzo und die Lyrik im Kondukt. Und das so hurtige wie knappe Postludium gerät zum intendierten Exempel für artifiziellen Nihilismus. Fazit: Derart lässt sich die melancholische Tonkunst dieses überzeitlichen Romantikers auslegen. Höchst reflektiert führen Schmitt-Leonardys Interpretationen direkt ins Zentrum der Chopin’schen Ästhetik. Hier wird diese Musik zum Erlebnis. (Johannes Adam) ...weiterlesen

Schumann CD vom 13 Februar 2013
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Fanfare über meine Schumann Einspielung

The early Abegg Variations sparkle with a subdued glow that makes sense of the various swirls of musical components marking a composer trying to find his way. Personal to the end, Schumann could not resist making a melody out of the last name of his Heidelberg University friend’s fiancée Fraulein Meta Abegg. And the six Intermezzi, more popular in Brahms’s canon than in Schumann’s, come together with a coherence that many performances fail to achieve, a mixture of technical proficiency that can easily navigate the contrapuntal issues and emotive reflection that balances the fantastic origins of the work, derived for the most part from song texts, and initially labeled by the composer as the Pièces phantastiques... Best of all just might be the Symphonic Variations... [T]hey have a formal integrity and sense of connectedness often missing in the hands of lesser artists...

– Steven E. Ritter, FANFARE [reviewing Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy's Schumann recordings, Brilliant 93772] ...weiterlesen

Chopin aktuell

Chopins Préludes Op.28 und die große b-Moll-Sonate: Es ist nicht gerade abseitiges Repertoire, mit dem der in München lehrende Wolfram Schmitt-leonardy auf seiner jüngsten Einspielung an die Öffentlichkeit geht. Die Konkurrenz ist gewaltig und gewichtig, also darf die Frage erlaubt sein, ob die Welt eine solche Produktion überhaupt braucht. Schmitt-Leonardy beantwortet diese Frage sehr schnell: Ja, man braucht sie, denn hier ist ein Pianist am Werk, dessen Chopin-Bild nicht nur perfekt in unsere Zeit passt, sondern darüber hinaus so manchen jüngeren Klavier-Popstar, der sich gerade mit Chopin hervorgetan hat in die Schranken weist. Schmitt-Leonardys Chopin ist kontrolliert, ohne unterkühlt zu wirken. Die unterschiedlichen Klangebenen, wie sie sich beispielsweise aus rasanten, aber immer klar konturierten Läufen ergeben, über denen sich geschmackvoll agogisch gestaltete Meldodiebögen entfalten können (Prélude Nr.3, G-Dur) – das ist hohe pianistische Kunstfertigkeit, der es gelingt, die interpretatorischen Freiheiten zu nutzen, die Chopins Klaviermusik öffnet, ohne sie durch ein Zuviel an subjektiven Zutaten zu entstellen. Man höre zum Einstieg die Ohrwürmer auf dieser CD (beispielsweise das berühmte e-Moll-Prélude), um das Gesagte bestätigt zu finden. Schmitt-Leonardy trifft in dieser Musik den Tonfall einer echten Innerlichkeit, die ohne jeden Anflug von verzärtelter Sentimentalität auskommt. Höhepunkt des Albums ist für mich der Trauermarsch der b-Moll-Sonate, dessen Mittelteil der Pianist mit der Schlichtheit eines Wiegenliedes ausstattet, was ein sehr versöhnliches Licht auf diesen finsteren Satz wirft. (Arnd Richter in Fono Forum 02/2013) ...weiterlesen