Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Fantasie in C Major Op.17 [33:08]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Sonata in B Minor S.178 [31:05]
Lars Vogt (piano)
rec. 3-5 April 2010, Deutschland Kammermusksaal, Cologne. Stereo. DDD
BERLIN CLASSICS 0300064BC [64:34]

The logic behind this programme is impeccable: Schumann's C Major Fantasie and Liszt's B Minor Sonata are two of the most significant works in the Romantic repertoire. They are also among the most substantial, especially given the preponderance of small-scale character pieces in the 19th century. The balance works well in terms of their stature and achievement, but just to complete the symmetry, it turns out that the Schumann work is dedicated to Liszt and the Liszt work to Schumann.

Lars Vogt is an astonishingly versatile pianist. One moment he can be thundering away with huge cascading figures, the next producing a delicate, cantabile melody at a dynamic that is little more than a whisper. And the variety of timbre that he draws from the piano, even at the dynamic extremes really brings this music to life, imparting an almost symphonic spectrum to the range of textures and harmonies. He is a disciplined player, in terms of pedal and rubato, but he never sounds constrained. In fact, that appearance of discipline may have more to do with the coherency of his interpretations than any reserve. The Liszt in particular is pulled around in places, but it never feels inappropriate or arbitrary.

Of the two works, the Schumann receives the finer performance. Another distinguishing feature of Vogt's technique is his ability to make almost any texture crystal clear. That benefits both works, but the Schumann more so than the Liszt. And Vogt is able to make the C Major Fantasie sound like a real event. It is a performance that keeps you guessing, no matter how well you know the work. His interpretive inflections are always slight, a brief caesura here, a slight cadential rit there, itís all very tasteful. But more importantly, it is also impressively dramatic and rigorously coherent.

The B Minor Sonata is subjected to greater extremes. The opening unison chords set the tone. They are very quiet and very clipped. I suspect that Vogt is trying here to create the maximum possible contrast of dynamics and articulation, meaning that staccato must be very short and pianissimo must be close to imperceptible. The main advantage of this approach is that it gives the listener many opportunities to admire Vogt's techniques at the quietest dynamics, and the sweetness and lyricism he achieves in the quieter passages is exceptional. The more robust music is well played but - with the exception of some very clipped staccato - is not unlike the recordings of many other pianists.

The sound quality is very good, with the piano, the acoustic and the recording technology all working to the favour of Vogt's lyrical yet clear keyboard technique. There is a luminosity about so many of the passages that, while it is no doubt primarily the result of his phenomenal technique, must also rely on some sympathetic sound engineering and piano preparation.

An impressive disc then, and one that finds unexpected connections between two works that would not normally be considered compatible. The reading of the B Minor Sonata is successful and distinctive but far from authoritative. The Schumann, however, is up there with the best of them.

Gavin Dixon

An impressive disc then and the Schumann is up there with the best of them.