Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Piano Sonata No. 1. Fantasy
Jin Ju (pn)
MDG 947 1681 (SACD: 68:23)
Robert Schumann’s “Grand” First Sonata—as it would later be called in the 1840 edition—was created at a time when he was still on friendly terms and conversant with his teacher Friedrich Wieck. He was deeply in
love with Wieck’s 16-year-old daughter, Clara, and gave her the manuscript of the work, which she dutifully accepted and played as often as she could. It was a continuation of the Florestan/Eusebius theme that would run throughout most of Schumann’s piano works, always in relation to his attachment to Clara. In fact, by 1836 Clara had become
to Robert as far as her dad was concerned, and the sonata became a sort of code for clandestine communication between them, his unswerving allegiance to her written in the dedication, and her acceptance of this by performing the piece in public in 1837.
Schumann, like every other composer of the time, was vastly intimidated by Beethoven, and to that point had avoided anything that smacked of a sonata. This piano sonata was his initial attempt in the genre, though he himself admitted that the form had fallen out of favor, despised by the French and only barely tolerated by the Germans themselves. But even here the predilection for smaller forms makes itself felt, and only the first movement really adheres to what might be considered a traditional structure. The second is based on one of his songs,
, about a fatally wounded soldier thinking of his beloved for one last time; there’s a boisterous and wonderful third-movement scherzo and intermezzo, and a wildly modulating and harmonically extrovert finale, strict in binary proportion but very wayward tonally. It’s a great first effort and a staple of the literature showing the young composer at his most energetic and inventive.
The great C-Major Fantasy is one of the masterpieces of the repertoire, even though it, too, fights with sonata form and struggles to find a place among the philosophies of those wanting Schumann to succeed in this area. In fact, as historical deduction has shown in a fairly substantive manner, this work is the “sonata” that Schumann wrote in order to draw support to the Beethoven memorial that was being erected in Bonn. Schumann was all over the map in terms of what to call this work, finally settling for the term “Fantasy”—and rightly so—because it was not going to fly as a standard sonata even though it does meet most of the technical requirements, and there are even references in the third movement to the first, disparate as those two are in every other way. The composer told Clara in a letter that she could only understand this piece in reference to the horrid summer of ’36 when he was forced to separate from her, and even renounce “rights” to her—that was to change drastically, as we all know.
Jin Ju is a young Chinese pianist with impressive worldwide credentials and performances. Among other duties, she serves as a faculty member at the Central Conservatory of Beijing. Generally I like her playing; it is not as clear as some other pianists present Schumann, and MDG’s sound is a little opaque in the middle register of the instrument, while the surround sound is only of the hinted echo in the rear speakers. Interpretatively she is middle-of-the-road, navigating the complexities of the Fantasy with adroitness and intelligence, while feeling only a slight need to try to force the issue herself in regards to tempo fluctuations and willful dynamics, though I do feel parts of the Fantasy are a little throbbing—pulsating—in places that do not benefit from such a technique. The sonata is the more successful of the two items, played with assurance and lots of fire, though I think Murray Perahia makes a more persuasive case ultimately. For the Fantasy, check the
Archive—there have been a million of them recently. But Ju is a fine player, and this particular combination of pieces is reasonably given here in considered and certainly apt readings.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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