Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger



Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Sonata No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 11 (1835) [34:13]
Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 14 (1836-53) [32:59]
Nikolai Demidenko (piano)
rec. Snape Maltings, 22-24 January 1996.
Originally issued 1996
Experience Classicsonline

Schumann commented on the development of the sonata – “It seems that the form has outlived its life-cycle. This is in the natural order of things: we ought not to repeat the same statements for centuries, but rather to think about the new as well. So let’s write sonatas or fantasies” – “what’s in a name?” Certainly in these two big works Schumann is not entirely successful in his treatment of sonata form if judged by traditional criteria, yet his imaginative originality and fantasy are more than enough compensation.

Demidenko is among the outstanding keyboard masters of his generation. With his enviable technique, he magisterially overcomes the extremely taxing piano-writing in these two works. Whether or not he meets the purely musical and stylistic challenges Schumann presents is another question.

The First Sonata opens imposingly. Clearly, this is going to be a big performance, yet is this not just a little too forceful? Demidenko really hits the keys as though he is conquering the music. While impressive in itself, this overpowering, quasi-barnstorming approach would be more in keeping with much of the Russian repertoire or a Brahms concerto. Often throughout this opening movement I found myself wishing for a more transparent tone – lighter, more mercurial. Demidenko’s treatment of the lyrical second subject is beautiful in its own way, but a slightly morbid, lugubrious quality seems to intrude. The climactic return of the opening bars in the development is splendidly managed.

Following the brief second movement entitled Aria, which Demidenko plays most eloquently while observing the senza passione and semplice markings, Schumann writes a curious “Scherzo ed Intermezzo”, a typically original idea. The Scherzo has the traditional trio, lighter and more lyrical, but also an Intermezzo section of totally unrelated character. This leads to a passage of recitative, before an upward flourish prepares us for the shortened scherzo reprise. Here Demidenko is masterful without really achieving that elusive mercurial, cavalier humour. True, Schumann’s sforzando markings proliferate, but nevertheless the same heavyweight feeling persists. The “pomposo” direction for the grandiose Intermezzo section is strongly characterised, though surely an implied element of humour is missing.

Demidenko lauches into the Finale – separated from the scherzo by no more than a split second - with tremendous energy. The notorious rhythmic problem of the second main theme is not solved here. How does one play this spiky rhythm to create the correct impression that it begins directly on the third beat? Demidenko merely distorts the rhythm in an attempt to clarify. We need to track down Eliso Virsaladze’s recording for an interpretation much closer to ideal, and indeed a thoroughly recommendable performance of the whole work.

As an admirer of Demidenko, I feel some regret at carping in the face of tremendous virtuosity. Generally I feel rather overdosed on the massive and short-changed on the tenderness and inwardness. His approach does throw interesting light at times, but - although I shall be accused of stereotyping - his Russianness is inescapable. However, when another Russian – Sviatoslav Richter - played Schumann he somehow managed to capture more fantasy and avoid browbeating.

The Third Sonata rarely appears either live or recorded. Its history is complicated, an initial five-movement format being reduced – at the wish of the publisher Haslinger – to a three-movement “Concert sans orchestre”. This reduction was achieved by cutting the two scherzos, but in his revision of 1853 Schumann restored the second of these and made other alterations. Demidenko plays all five movements and also reinstates in the central movement two variations which never got beyond Schumann’s original autograph. According to Misha Donat’s exemplary sleeve-notes, these were only published as recently as 1983. This sonata is also one of Schumann’s most thematically integrated works, the opening five-note phrase appearing throughout in different forms.

Demidenko plunges into the opening movement – another example of Schumann’s startling treatment of sonata form – with typical power and assurance. However, while again admiring the technical mastery, I miss that last degree of lyrical fantasy, the essential buoyancy found in the very greatest Schumann performances. A little too often Demidenko’s weighty, saturated tone favours the vertical at the expense of the singing horizontal line.

The first scherzo, marked “Vivacissimo”, is one of Schumann’s most idiosyncratic studies in quasi-syncopation, defying the first-time listener to find the bar lines. The printed dynamic level is often quite subdued, a detail one would not necessarily guess from this hefty performance. Also, Schumann’s capricious wit is underplayed. However, Demidenko finds some of his most exquisite tone for the lovely melody of the trio. This lyrical music, devoid of all rhythmic puzzles, provides perfect contrast.

The central “Quasi Variazioni” is a deeply touching movement which Demidenko plays most beautifully. Its theme is supposedly by Clara Schumann but, as John Daverio has written, “the ‘Andantino by Clara Wieck’ … cannot be found in any of the surviving sources for her music”.

The second scherzo (D flat major) is robust in character, with a fluid trio section in D major. Again Demidenko impresses with his power, but reveals less of the whimsical.

Marked Prestissimo possible, the Finale has a vertiginous effect, with the kind of rhythmic wizardry which Daverio rightly traces to the influence of Paganini. Here Demidenko is in his element, carrying off a tour de force – though my general reservations about the sheer weight of his tone still apply.

Repeated hearings consistently reveal more of the beauties of these two works, especially the neglected Third Sonata. Clearly, Demidenko (marvellously recorded) will win many admirers for this richly characterful music, without being the last word in Schumann style.

Philip Borg-Wheeler


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.