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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Fantasie in F minor Op. 49 (1841) [12:58]
Fantasie in F sharp minor Op. 28 (1834) [14:18]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasie in C major Op. 17 (1836-8) [32:06]
Frédéric CHOPIN
Fantasie-Impromptu in C sharp minor Op. posth. 66 (1835) [5:31]
Amit Yahav (piano)
rec. 2019, Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
GENUIN GEN20709 [64:56]

The young pianist Amit Yahav was born in Israel, brought up in Amsterdam and is currently based in London. He has won numerous prizes and already released his first recording, of Chopin, on whom he has also written a thesis. For this recording he has had the excellent idea of grouping together Romantic period works which are called Fantasies by their composers. These are all demanding works and I need to say straightaway that Yahav has a superb technique which makes light of the many difficulties and does not draw attention to itself.

We start with Chopin. His F minor Fantasie is one of a group of works, which also include the Berceuse and the Barcarolle, which do not belong to one of the bigger sets, such as the Preludes or the Nocturnes. It sets out as if it were going to be the first movement of a sonata, with its three main themes but they are repeated and varied in a way which is quite unlike a real sonata-form movement. Yahav observes the articulation and dynamics very precisely at a slightly slower opening tempo than usual, though he speeds up, as marked, when the triplet passage begins. He sustains the momentum and gives a satisfying performance.

Mendelssohn’s Fantasie in F sharp minor would have counted as an early work for another composer as he was only twenty when he started writing it, though he revised it later. But he was a child prodigy and already had masterpieces under his belt by that age. It is loosely modelled on Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, the Sonata quasi fantasia Op. 27 No. 2, which indeed seems to have cast its spell over all the works on this disc. The first movement begins with arpeggios which lead to a melancholy theme and there is a good deal of what sounds like written-down improvisation in this movement, which rises to a thunderous climax, quite unlike its model. The second movement is cheerful, as is Beethoven’s, though it actually suggests Schubert. The finale is a perpetuo mobile which goes at a helter-skelter pace and is as close to fury as Mendelssohn gets, and only seems tame when compared to the power of Beethoven’s finale. But it makes up for that with its whirlwind of notes.

Schumann’s Fantasie in C major is actually a three-movement sonata, though not using sonata-form, and a specific Beethoven influence comes from the song-cycle An die ferne Geliebte, whose opening phrase it echoes, and, in its first draft, quotes at the end. I believe that this is not only Schumann’s finest piano work but the finest of all his works. Yahav manages the frequent changes of texture in the first movement without losing the flow and he clarifies the often complex writing. His phrasing of the legato sections is very good too. The Legendenton section is well integrated into the rest of the movement and the return to the main theme finely handled. The second movement march is sturdy and confident and the obsessive dotted rhythms are nicely lightened. The notorious passage at the end with leaps in opposite directions in both hands is despatched with aplomb. Only in the slow finale did I sometimes think that Yahav was sometimes losing the thread, but this is being hypercritical.

It's a shame that there would not have been room for Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasie in this interesting programme, but instead we end with a bonne bouche, Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu. This is a famous old warhorse, but Yahav delivers a fresh performance which has additional interest because he uses a variant version of the text, most obvious in the slightly different version of the slow middle section.

I greatly enjoyed this recital, both for its fluent and idiomatic playing and for its intelligent programming. It also introduced me to the Mendelssohn, which I had not heard before. Yahav is well recorded and writes his own sleeve-note.

There are of course many other versions, particularly of the Chopin and Schumann works here, some by the greatest pianists. But I am not going to make comparisons. Yahav’s recital stands up well and will give pleasure.

Stephen Barber

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