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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kreisleriana, Op. 16 (1838) *
Fantasy in C major, Op. 17 (1836-38)
Evgeny Kissin, piano
Recorded Südwestfunk Landesstudio, Freiburg, Germany, August 1995, August 1997 *
BMG RCA RED SEAL 82876 59412 [67:21]


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These performances of Kreisleriana and the Fantasy in C were originally issued a few years ago on different discs. Now they are joined reflecting Evgeny Kissinís realization of two of Robert Schumannís greatest works for solo piano.

Kissin, once a child prodigy, now has a huge reputation built on his charismatic stage presence, virtuosity, pianism of the highest order and exceptional marketing strategies. Any lingering doubts about his artistry revolve around the degree to which he immerses himself in a composerís soundworld/psychology. These doubts sometimes surface here.

The basic problem is the level of intensity and impetuosity Kissin brings to the music. He is a wonderful pianist, but he doesnít express the essence of Schumannís soundworld as consistently as the best Schumann pianists including Annie Fischer, Earl Wild, Walter Gieseking, Sviatoslav Richter and Martha Argerich.

These are some examples from the disc of Kissinís high and low points:

Kreisleriana Ė In the 1st Movement, Schumann begins with a highly agitated primary subject of power, speed and wild desperation based on ascending triplets. In the interlude, Eusebius takes the upper-voice melody while Florestan churns out the energy from the lower voices; it is Florestan and Eusebius set against one another constituting the emotional foundation of the interlude.

Kissinís primary subject is quite powerful, but inexplicably he has a few moments of inordinately reduced tension. His interlude is very disappointing, because the upper-voice melody line is not particularly lilting and actually is less poetic than the lower voices which churn only lightly in Kissinís hands. The effect is a complete loss of contrast resulting in an amicable interlude.

The 2nd Movement is the heart of the work and has two interludes. The first is sharp and playful, the second super-charged and frenzied. Kissin is attractively exuberant in the first interlude but does not offer sufficient tension in the second interlude progressing up to the tremendous climax. However, all goes very well in the stunning primary subject as Kissinís poignancy is at peak level.

The hard driving 7th Movement finds Kissin at his best. Here, his tension is razor-sharp with a virtuosity rarely encountered. Also, Kissinís dynamic fugue section is the most thrilling I have ever heard. In the 8th Movement, the broken figures in the primary subject are appropriately mysterious and jittery, and the two interludes are finely etched and dramatic.

Fantasy in C Ė Kissin is not as successful here as in Kreisleriana. He doesnít project significant rapture in the 1st Movement, and his 2nd Movement march is a little sluggish. I have no complaints at all with Kissinís performance of the gorgeous 3rd Movement that is essentially a love song to Clara Wieck. Kissin pours out Schumannís ardor for the young lady and does so beautifully and with lilting inflections.

The recorded sound has excellent clarity and depth, offering Kissin a vivid soundstage. Piano tone can be abrasive at times, but a decrease in the treble controls minimizes the effect.

In summary, Kissin displays superb pianism and often captures the full beauty of Schumannís music. It is in the area of contrasting emotions highlighted by the Florestan and Eusebius figures where he falls from the heights established by the greatest Schumann interpreters. Enthusiastic supporters of Kissin will certainly want to have the recording, but others are advised to sample first. Readers hoping for a wonderful disc coupling the Fantasy in C and Kreisleriana need look no further than the Annie Fischer recording. I reviewed that BBC disc which also includes Kinderszenen, in these pages. The Fischer is one of the best Schumann piano discs on the market and easily surpasses the Kissin entry.

For those who might be a little adventurous, I highly recommend the two Schumann recordings of Burkard Schliessmann on the Bayer label. One disc has the Symphonic Etudes and Kreisleriana, while the other contains the Fantasy in C and Lisztís Piano Sonata. Of todayís pianists recording Schumann, Schliessmann is the most distinctive as well as being reminiscent of the great pianists of the early 20th century. His blend of musical instinct and intellectualism is a joy to experience.

Don Satz

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