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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Paganini Etüden Op.10
Allegro Op.8
Sonate Op.118/2
Faschingsschwank Aus Wien Op.26
Franz Vorraber (piano)
Recorded in Germany 28.07.2002 (No venue mentioned) Piano: Bösendorfer
The Complete Piano Works. Vol. 5
THOROFON CTH 2517 [76:08]

Schumannís piano music still strikes fear into the heart of the majority of pianists, not just for its technical unwieldiness, but also, and above all, because of its emotional complexity. It is little wonder then that only a small and select handful of pianists have ever attempted, in concert or on record, his complete works for solo piano. Only Peter Frankl, Jörg Demus and Karl Engel have previously recorded the entire oeuvre. Thorofon have embarked on this project, only the fourth complete set ever, entrusting the task to the young and relatively unknown Austrian pianist, Franz Vorraber.

The very informative sleeve note quotes Schumann thusÖ"The pearl does not lie near the surface; it must be sought in the depths, despite the danger." Poignant and daunting at the same time, but Vorraber nevertheless sets out to persuade the listener that he has valiantly embarked upon this very perilous voyage.

He brings a youthful vigour, and maturity beyond his tender years, to a performance that begins with the Paganini Etudes Op.10. These etudes, inspired by Paganiniís Caprices for solo violin become more than mere vehicles for the display of technical prowess once Schumannís unique perspective has been brought to bear upon them. Vorraberís ease of execution almost verges on carefree abandon, and the listener is at once convinced of his undoubted virtuosity, a virtuosity that is however always subservient to the complex emotional demands of the music.

The Allegro Op.8 is likewise presented with absolute technical assurance, but without the poetic aspects of the music suffering any neglect whatsoever.

Of the three Sonatas Op.118, that Schumann dedicated to his three eldest daughters, the second, for Elise, is by far the more demanding. The opening Allegro, terribly formal in concept and structure is delivered faithfully enough, whilst the Canon and Abendlied live up to expectations. The finale however is invested with a far greater urgency and zealously portrays the effervescence of youth.

In the five movement Faschingsschwank Aus Wien, Vorraberís interpretation successfully reveals the work for the romantic masterpiece that it truly is. The dramatic opening Allegro movement begins with an almost studied grandeur, but the intrinsic infectious optimism and playfulness are never neglected. The romance plaintively weaves a painful web of emotions and the arrival of the playful scherzo is almost a relief. The dark and mysterious aspects of the intermezzo are succinctly revealed and the exuberant finale is boldly despatched, with the utmost virtuosic abandon.

This project, to record all Schumannís piano music on thirteen discs is a bold undertaking and Thorofon appear to have matched an exceptional artist with a composer whose music appears to course through his veins.

If I have any reservations at all, they relate to the sound of the Bösendorfer piano, which Vorraber favours. Whilst he achieves great clarity throughout, I occasionally find the sound of the upper registers of the piano somewhat brittle.

Leon Bosch

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