Notes and Editorial Reviews
Fantasy in C.
Sergei Edelmann (pn)
TRITON EXCL-0025 (SACD: 79:28)
Robert Schumann’s Fantasy is not unlike horse racing’s Triple Crown—so often pianists, really great ones attuned to his idiom, are able to negotiate and even “win” movement 1 (the Kentucky Derby, and the first race that sets the tone), proceed on to the second movement (requiring as much quickness and fleetness of foot—hoof?— as the Preakness),
only to falter in the race that needs more pacing and distance than speed, the Belmont Stakes (third movement, in case you didn’t see where this was going). Many are successful in the first two, and die a slow death in the third.
In Sergei Edelmann’s case, the death is
slow, at 13:18 one of the slowest finales I have heard in this work. But let’s back up. His passion in the first movement is admirably succinct and controlled, never out of hand but breathlessly exciting nonetheless; I know of few better ones. The second follows likewise, gorgeously construed and lovingly shaped. Could we have a winner here? You have no idea how anticipatory I was at the beginning of the last movement.
It started very deliberate,
measured. OK, not too bad; let’s see what he does with it—surely it at least means he won’t bring things to a full stop at the climaxes like so many other seriously-in-error artists have tried. And even though, in Anne Queffelec style (especially her Ravel), he maintains a real penchant for slowing down at the end of each phrase, something that can be positively irritating, there is enough artistry here to pull off a real coup and make this a primary Schumann recommendation for this piece. Alas, it was not to be—his slow tempos waver and distend; his climaxes become agonizingly slow and lose all interest and tautness of line, resulting in one of the biggest letdowns I have experienced in this work, and I experience them all the time. Opportunity wasted, what else can I say?
The wonderfully pithy and sunflower-laden
suffers the same fate—Edelmann simply can’t resist pausing all the time and trying to make every note count. But Schumann has already done this for him, and the additional attention where none is warranted spotlights the music to death. The filigreed beauties of this work are completely dependent on the pianist’s ability to maintain forward motion despite the contrasting sections, and that element is lacking here.
But as it always turns out, the last work here seems perfectly suited to Edelmann’s natural propensities. The Symphonic Variations are to the manner fitted to Edelmann’s fingers. Perhaps it’s the shortness of the variations that allows him to breathe more often and exercise his fondness for lingering over phrases, so particularly appropriate in this work, that makes it all come off so wonderfully. Maybe he’s just a miniaturist at heart. I certainly enjoyed his recent Chopin album (
34:5), though reviewer Scott Noriega didn’t seem too pleased. But I would not at all be surprised to hear him succeed in something like the etudes or preludes—we shall see. As far as Schumann goes, here the match is made and the race not only won but the competition stomped as brutally as Secretariat trampled Man O’ War. This is one kick-rear performance, maybe the best on record, if such a thing can even be declared in a work like this. It is fantastic, rousing from first to last, and though it is the only reason to get this album, the reason is a big one. The SACD sound is superb, but be warned—this is stereo-only, not a smidgen of surround to be found.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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