Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Works - Volume 3

Novellette, Op. 21 (Book IV) No. 8 (1838) [11:57]
Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6 (1837, rev ed 1850) [36:13]
Novellette, Op. 21 (Book I) No. 2 (1838) [6:34]
Abegg Variations Op. 1 (1829-30) [8:56]
Variationen über ein eigenes Theme (Geistervariationen) [11:54]
Imogen Cooper (piano)
rec. 2014, Concert Hall, Snape Maltings, Suffolk, UK.
CHANDOS CHAN10874 [75:51]

Imogen Cooper follows her previous two excellent recordings of Schumann’s piano music for Chandos (Volume 1 and Volume 2), with what is arguably the finest recording so far. This is not just because this is the first to solely present the music of Robert Schumann, but also because it contains my favourite work.

The disc opens with a strong and persuasive performance of the last of the Op. 21 Novellette, one which rivals the best accounts. It is a shame that Cooper only includes two of the eight, as on this evidence she makes a fine argument for the set to make a welcome return to the active Romantic repertoire.

This is followed by my favourite of all Schumann’s piano works, the Davidsbündlertänze. First composed in 1837 after a reconciliation with Clara Wieck, it represents a series of 18 ‘character pieces’ in the form of dances divided into books of 9 which the composer revised in 1850. It is this revised edition that is performed here. The individual pieces include depictions of his beloved Clara as well as of his alter egos, Florestan and Eusebius, who he even credited with writing the dances in the first edition. Here Cooper is excellent in the way that she seemingly effortlessly brings out every nuance switching from the more exuberant music of Florestan to the more dreamy pieces by Eusebius with apparent ease. This is arguably the finest modern recording of this work.

The final two works on this disc are in the form of a theme and variations. Firstly, his Thème sur le nom Abegg varié pour le pianoforte Op. 1. What an op. 1, although if truth be told, by the time of its composition, Schumann had already written quite a lot of music, including another set of variations for two pianos. Whilst the work , I am told, is popular with professional and amateur pianists alike due to its apparent lack of technical challenges, it still takes a lot to make it sound as good as it does here. This early set of variations is tempered with what is believed to be one of the composer’s final works, the Geistervariationen or Ghost Variations, the name coming from Schumann’s assertion that he was given the theme by the angel or spirit that visited him during his stay in the mental hospital. This work is performed with great feeling and eloquence by Cooper, a fitting end to an exceptional recording.

Throughout Imogen Cooper proves to be a wonderful interpreter of Schumann’s music, I only hope that there are more recordings of his music to follow by this artist. Excellent recorded sound and booklet essay add to your enjoyment of this fine disc.

Stuart Sillitoe

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