One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

  Founder: Len Mullenger             Senior Editor: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  

Some items
to consider
  • Brahms Symphony 4 Dvorak Symphony 9
  • Peter Aronsky (piano) Les Délices du Piano
  • IL Carnevale di Venezia Clarinet with orchestra
  • Sinfonie Concertanti
  • IL Carnevale di Venezia Clarinet with orchestra
  • Peter Aronsky (piano) Les Délices du Piano

Shostakovich 4, 11 Nelsons
Transparent Granite!

Nothing but Praise

BrucKner 4 Nelsons
the finest of recent years.

superb BD-A sound

This is a wonderful set

Telemann continues to amaze

A superb disc

Performances to cherish

An extraordinary disc.

rush out and buy this

I favour above all the others

Frank Martin - Exemplary accounts

Asrael Symphony
A major addition

Another Bacewicz winner

match any I’ve heard

An outstanding centenary collection

personable, tuneful, approachable

a very fine Brahms symphony cycle.

music that will be new to most people

telling, tough, thoughtful, emotionally fleet and powerfully recorded

hitherto unrecorded Latvian music


REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

Support us financially by purchasing
this through MusicWeb
for £11.50 postage paid world-wide.

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Sonata in F minor Op. 14 (1836, rev 1853)
Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Sonata-Ballada in F sharp minor Op. 27 (1914)
Risa Iwai (piano)
rec. October 2016, Kawai Europa GmbH, Düsseldorf, Germany
SHEVA SH165 [52:09]

Risa Iwai is a Japanese pianist, born in 1985. She has won numerous prizes in Italy and has a flourishing career as a concert pianist and teacher. This is her first recording and so should be considered as a calling card.

Her choice of repertoire is very adventurous, neither work being common choices for a debut disc. Schumann’s three piano sonatas have some splendid ideas and passages, but as wholes are not among his most successful piano works. His idiom, developed through short character pieces linked in cycles, did not fit easily into the sonata form and all three sonatas tend both to be episodic and to have long passages of repetition: the classical idea of development was alien to his musical imagination. This third sonata is the most problematic of the three. Schumann originally drafted it in five movements, with two scherzi. It was written in such a grand manner that his publisher persuaded him to title it Concert sans orchestre, for which Schumann revised the first movement and removed the two scherzi. In a second edition he put the first movement back to its original form and restored one of the scherzi. That is the version we have here. It is unfortunate that the title Concert sans orchestre is still sometimes used for this work, because there is nothing concerto-like about it, unlike Alkan’s Concerto for solo piano of 1857.

I was impressed by Rosa Iwai’s performance of this work. It is of great technical difficulty and, in addition, the pianist needs to try to disguise the weakness in form. Her solution is, somewhat paradoxically, to underplay the grandeur and concentrate on speed, lightness and dexterity. Her technical command is indeed prodigious, as it needs to be: the finale begins with the marking Prestissimo possibile but Schumann then twice asks for Più presto. Of the other movements the first is assertive but somewhat rambling and the surviving scherzo is clumsy and insistent, but the slow movement, a set of variations on a theme by Clara Wieck, then Schumann’s apparently unattainable beloved, but later his wife, is charming and charmingly done. Incidentally this was a favourite encore piece for Horowitz.

The competition for this work includes an outstanding version by Demidenko (Hyperion CDA66864), who plays with passion and intensity as well as phenomenal accuracy. He also includes the discarded scherzo and a variation for the slow movement which Schumann also discarded. Pollini has also recorded this work (DG 4790908), but in the first version. He displays his sovereign command, but Demidenko is the one who almost succeeds in persuading me that the work is a masterpiece.

It is good to see Medtner beginning to take his rightful place next to his friend Rachmaninov in recitals. The Sonata-Ballada is a programmatic work, based on a poem, which describes Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. The first movement describes the arrival of spring. The second introduces Satan the tempter but his malevolent theme is gradually overcome by a radiant one, representing angels. In the last movement, after a rather Beethovenian fugue, there is a joyful statement of the angel theme with a background of bells. Risa Iwai conveys the musical narrative well, lightening her tone to prevent the complex textures from becoming heavy. However, she does not sufficiently bring out the themes, which I think should soar above or resound below the figuration. I find more incisive characterization in Hamelin’s performance in his complete set of the Medtner sonatas (Hyperion CDA67221/4).

Risa Iwai is well recorded in a German studio. The notes are skimpy in the extreme, telling the reader almost nothing about the works and very little about the pianist. They are given in English and Japanese only. The disc would have had room for another work.

Despite my reservations this is an interesting coupling and Risa Iwai’s formidable technical skill and fluency is much to be commended.

Stephen Barber



Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Senior Editor
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger