Robert Schumann: Davidsbündlertänze (Hyperion)
★★★★ (out of five)
Do not be put off by the cover, which shows two Victorians of different gender having a pre-Raphaelite snog. What they look like post-Raphael is left to the imagination, as is any thematic connection between Gilbert Baldry’s The Kiss and a set of Schumann pieces that evoke male friendships. Not long ago, record companies employed picture researchers and their covers bore some relevance to the music inside. These days, the images seem to be picked by a computer linked to the Amazon sales chart.
Do not be put off either by the coupling of Schumann with a record newbie whose name you may not recognise. Luca Buratto is an Italian who won the Honens competition in Canada a couple of years ago. It then took a year for him to cut his first record and a further year to get it released, such is the breathless haste of classical commerce in the digital era.
For once, it has been worth the wait. Schumann is not designed for debutants or people in a rush. His wild enthusiasms and morose interludes — probably the most precise musical pathology of a bipolar personality — require intense individual contemplation before an artist can make more than pretty gallery pictures of his pieces.
Buratto offers no concession to drawing-room romanticism. There is a rather touching hesitation in his entry to the Humoresques, along with a refusal to be charmed by Schumann’s observations of his lusty pack of David-and-Jonathan pals. This is a reasoned assessment, at times a serious analysis, of a work of music that dances on the very cliff-edge of sanity. Buratto, wise beyond his years, is definitely a talent to watch.