From the first tender notes of Robert Schumann’s five-piece Humoreske in B flat major Op. 20, pianist Luca Buratto envelops the listener in what feels like the composer’s authentic presence, bringing out melody, harmony, and inner voices with both raw feeling and fragile-seeming sensitivity. The second piece with its long-held chords and drifting rhythms is as emotionally dense and finely calibrated as the familiar themes of the first and third, contrasting effectively with the frenetic drive in the middle of the fourth.
A winner of Canada’s Honens Prize and numerous other awards, Buratto deploys his magisterial technique entirely in the service of the music, rather than of his own virtuosity. Nor does he over-romanticize the music’s lyricism and passion, knowing that it contains within itself all that’s needed.
That holds true too in the pianist’s performance of the Davidsbündlertänze Op. 6, which Schumann began composing just after his clandestine engagement to Clara Wieck under the shadow of her father’s disapproval. This set of 18 short pieces presents a cornucopia of moods and flavors for a pianist to absorb and convey: direct, uncertain, sunny, longing, stormy, pastoral (though never with full heart’s-ease).
Schumann wrote Clara that he’d put into the “dances” “many wedding thoughts” and that the whole sequence should suggest a polterabend, a wedding-eve party featuring a ritual smashing of crockery. The rolling chords and thoughtful pauses of No. 7 (marked simply “Nicht Schnell” – “Not Fast”) shatter into the frantic, pounding drama of No. 8 (“Frisch – “Fresh”). Buratto finds both the romance and the demolition.
You can certainly hear the composer’s determined heart in No. 13 (“Wild und Lustig” – no English translation needed), as even its soft sections march forthrightly forward. The way No. 15 (again “Frisch”) molds arpeggios, simple scales, and sudden trills into a wrenching argument for love bespeaks a soul charged to bursting. Yet just as convincing are the jokey No. 3 and the carnivalesque trifle No. 12 (both “Mit Humor”), the glassy tinkle of No. 5 (“Einfach” – “Easy”) and the insistent syncopated fury of No. 9.
The suite ends in a dark place with the deep bass notes of No. 18, but Buratto makes the penultimate No. 17 (“Wie Aus Der Ferne” – “As From Afar”) his real closing statement, feeding all his finesse and feeling into its complex moods in a mere three minutes and change. It’s yet more evidence of the affinity Buratto seems to have for this famously troubled composer. The pianist’s earlier album Live at Honens 2015 included Schumann’s “Fantasy in C Major,” and in my review I wrote that his performance of the first movement was “blessedly non-flamboyant…with assured grace.” He brings the same qualities to this new recording, which also includes the charming “Blumenstück” Op. 19. Buratto distills his thoughtful approach to a fine point here, drawing a honeyed tone from the piano’s midrange and treating this compact piece of many melodies like a miniature songspiel, each number flowing naturally into the next, with exquisitely timed rubatos.
The album is available at the Hyperion label website and at major online outlets.