Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 [28:25]
Humoreske, Op. 20 [27:47]
Arabeske, Op. 18 [6:29]
Toccata, Op. 7 [5:24]
Kinderszenen, Op. 15 [18:09]
Novelletten, Op. 21 [50:46]
Ada Gorbunova (piano)
rec. 9-10 March and 6-8 June 2014, Yamaha Artists Salon, New York, New York, USA
LP CLASSICS 1007A/B [62:42 + 74:19]

Ada Gorbunova, making her CD debut, has chosen two discs of repertoire by Robert Schumann, an eccentric mixture of his popular hits and more obscure, hard-to-like pieces. Disc 2, for example, combines one of Schumann’s most beloved works, the Kinderszenen, with one of his least-recorded, the 50-minute-long set of Novelletten. Gorbunova calls Schumann “my composer” and is so devoted to him that she visited his childhood home in Zwickau, an experience she writes about touchingly in the album notes.

The performances are, on the whole, fine but not among the most expressive. Gorbunova has a wide expressive range, capable of tender softness in the Fantasiestücke and ambitious drive in the Toccata. Indeed, I think Fantasiestücke is the double album’s biggest success. She does, it’s true, lack the superlative poetic skill found in artists like Murray Perahia. More recently, Nelson Goerner and Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy slow the Toccata down enough, and find enough dynamic variation within, to make real music out of it. Parts of Kinderszenen are particularly wooden or plainspoken here but Gorbunova does understand Schumann: his conflicted nature, his turns of mood, his inner melodist.

I’d like to be more enthusiastic but the sound quality is a problem. Gorbunova uses a Yamaha piano, which is not at all what I prefer; Yamahas, to me, often sound too bright, too cold and a bit inexpressive. On top of that, the engineering removes some colour from the playing. To be clear, the sound is not bad: it’s acceptable, just not state-of-the-art. Gorbunova is probably a more exciting artist live.

So, while there is good Schumann playing here, it is not great, and neither is the sound. Collectors may be interested in hearing Gorbunova’s traversals of the rarer works, although for another exciting recording of Noveletten in another pianist’s debut recording, try Kotaro Fukuma’s sublime recital on Naxos 8.557668. Fukuma brings out more variety in this huge suite, with crisper articulation, sharper rhythms and a more colourful piano.

I’m afraid that, despite such good intentions, this double album is mainly for those pianophiles who are enthusiastic about the Yamaha keyboard sound.

Brian Reinhart
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