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Schumann: Fantasiestucke; Kreisleriana; Brahms: Theme And Variations

Schumann / Cooper
Release Date: 02/26/2013 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10755   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Robert SchumannJohannes Brahms
Performer:  Imogen Cooper
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 15 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUMANN Fantasiestücke, Op. 12. Kreisleriana , Op. 16. BRAHMS Theme and Variations in d (1859) Imogen Cooper (pn) CHANDOS 10755 (75:32)

What is it that makes a good Schumann pianist? There have been many approaches to his music over the course of the last century. Some stress the manic, extroverted, Read more quirky, even nervous quality of his music, while others lean more towards the inward, poetic, self-reflective aspects. Is he more Florestan or more Eusebius? Or is it the inherent contrast between one and the other that matters most? Perhaps it is impossible to be in perfect equilibrium in this regard, and what might matter most of all are the works that one is approaching.

Imogen Cooper, in the current recital, leans more towards the poetic, the more inwardly effusive aspects of Schumann’s music; here in dealing with the composer’s fantasy works—as both the Fantasiestücke , op. 12, and Kreisleriana , subtitled Fantasien are—she seems to be right at home. Throughout the recital she maintains a lovely lyrical sense in the music. The opening of “Des Abends” is both tender and evocative. She maintains a lovely transparency of sound, achieving a haunting glow in this music; the melody seems to float above the gentle accompaniment, even most so when the pianist plays pianissimo. And what is so magical about her playing at this low dynamic level? That she achieves an extraordinary sense of phrasing in these remarkably quiet moments: There is here, as in the pianissimo moments of “In der Nacht,” a natural sense of ebb and flow. The lighter, yet faster moments are beautifully wrought as well. The sections marked Schnell in “Fabel” are not only bouncy and light, they are above all else remarkably full of that innocent spirit that contrasts so well with the more poignant moments of the work. Those instances of inwardness, too, are remarkably touching in these performances. The second composition of Kreisleriana or “Warum?” from the op. 12 set is just magical in these regards. What I find a bit lacking here are the more aggressive moments, those of Florestan: The bombast of “Aufschwung” is underplayed (though the way she delicately voices the tenor part in this work is worth the price of the disc alone!); the tension of the opening number of Kreisleriana is also missing—all here sounds just too smooth, too easy-going. Her Brahms benefits from this somewhat lighter overall approach. In a work originally conceived for the string sextet medium, here reworked and gifted to Brahms’s lifelong friend Clara Schumann, Cooper achieves a wonderful sense of voicing and textural/chordal balance. Never does the work feel light in emotional content, but the airiness that she brings to it is often that quality which I find missing in most performances of this music.

So the question remains: Florestan or Eusebius? Here Cooper seems to opt for the latter. Her playing at its best here is stunning. And if it is these characteristics of Schumann that are most important to one, then this is the disc of choice. Though I do miss the more aggressive aspects in some pieces already noted, there is an elegance to her approach which is highly attractive. If one likes their Schumann slightly more assertive then stick with Cortot, Horowitz, or Argerich (for Kreisleiana ) and Richter (for selected pieces out of Fantasiestücke ). Equally impressive is Rubinstein’s account of the op. 12 (on RCA Red Seal, together with outstanding performances of Carnaval —one of the finest on record—the F#-Major Romance, and “Vogel aus Prophet”); though far more straightforward in approach, his music-making is a joy to behold. But if one is most interested in the poet Schumann then one should look no further than Cooper’s extremely fine recital here.

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Works on This Recording

Phantasiestücke (8) for Piano, Op. 12 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Imogen Cooper (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1837; Germany 
Venue:  Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Suffolk, En 
Length: 27 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Theme and variations, for piano in D minor (after sextet for strings, Op. 18) by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Imogen Cooper (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1860 
Venue:  Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Suffolk, En 
Length: 10 Minutes 33 Secs. 
Kreisleriana, Op. 16 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Imogen Cooper (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1838; Germany 
Venue:  Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Suffolk, En 
Length: 34 Minutes 22 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 A Truly Beautiful Recording May 14, 2013 By David H. (Cheshire, CT) See All My Reviews "I've been a big fan of Schumann's piano music for a long time. I have several recordings of various works of his, and I even try to play many of his pieces myself. This is the best performance of the Fantasiestucke that I have ever heard--and the other works on this disc are equally beautifully played. I highly recommend this disc." Report Abuse
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