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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasiestücke, Op. 111 (1851) [11:08]
Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 (1837) [27:35]
Fantasie in C major, Op. 17 (1836, rev. 1839) [31:06]
Severin von Eckardstein (piano)
rec. 2016, Sendesaal, Bremen
CAVI-MUSIC 8553366 [69:53]

"Fantasia" is the theme, and lies at the heart, of this Schumann recording by the German pianist Severin von Eckardstein. The term indicates the music's improvisatory or free-flowing character. For the composer, it proved the ideal genre to articulate his romantic leanings. The disc offers three works, written between 1837 and 1851.

The earliest of the works played here are the 1837 Fantasiestücke, Op. 12. The eight pieces take their inspiration from the writings of one of the composer's favourite authors, E. T. A. Hoffmann. Schumann dedicated them to the Scottish pianist Anna Robena Laidlaw, with whom he had had a brief flirtation. The eight pieces were given their titles after composition. Schumann had at the back of his mind the characters of Florestan and Eusebius, representing the passionate and dreamy sides of his personality. I like the way von Eckardstein expressively contours the melodic line of Des Abends. In Aufschwung, which follows, there is a compelling sense of urgency. Warum rightly poses a question, whilst In der Nacht offers ample dynamic variance. In Fabel the opening and closing chords are luminously voiced, whilst the central schnell section is capricious. Traumes Wirren capitalizes on some fleet and sparkling fingerwork.

The Three Fantasiestücke, Op. 111, were penned in 1851, in the last phase of the composer's life. It was a period of declining mental health. Some commentators held the view that his music revealed signs of creative decay. I hear no such deterioration in these three outstandingly beautiful scores, whose bold harmonic gestures and expressive lyricism cannot fail to win over the listener. They make a pleasing contrast to the youthful, extrovert Op. 12 pieces of fourteen years earlier. Not only are they more muted, but they reveal a more probing introspective. The pianist effectively captures the mood of each. Sehr rasch, mit leidenschaftlichem Vortrag is eloquent, flowing and fervently zealous, Ziemlich langsam – wistful and reflective and shot through with emotional fragility. Kräftig und sehr markiert’s sprung rhythms and swagger occupy more positive terrain.

Although written in 1836, the Fantasie in C major we are familiar with today was a revision by the composer prior to its publication as Op. 17 in 1839, when it was dedicated to Franz Liszt. For many, including myself, it is Schjumann's greatest solo piano score. Its masterpiece status has resulted in a glut of recordings; the listener is spoiled for choice. My favorite versions are headed by Sviatolslav Richter and Maurizio Pollini, and I once attended a memorable live recital where Alfred Brendel performed it magnificently. Von Eckardstein is well placed to succeed. He commands a flawless technique, wide colouristic range and, most of all, he approaches Schumann through the eyes of a poet. His first movement is rhapsodic and passionate, underpinned by rhetorical grandeur. The obsessive dotted rhythms and syncopations of the second movement are nicely paced, with the treacherous leaping skips in the coda immaculately dispatched. The last movement is meditative, poised, calm and dreamy, and transports us to another world.

Here is a pianist with an instinctive feel for the music of Robert Schumann. I love the sense of fantasy he brings to the music, and the magnificent tapestry of colour with which he invests it. He is profiled in a warm, intimate acoustic, with a rich-toned piano, ideal for this repertory. I sincerely hope that he treats us to more solo Schumann in the future. I would also like to hear him in the Piano Concerto. In short, intuitive understanding, poetic insights and refined pianism coalesce to result into some of the most ravishing Schumann playing you are ever likely to encounter.

Stephen Greenbank



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