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Schumann: Fantasies and Fairy Tales

Asko Heiskanen, Reka Szilvay, Dmitry Sinkovsky, Alexander Rudin, 
Aapo Häkkinen (Naxos)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Fantasiestücke, Op. 73; Fantasiestücke in A minor for Piano Trio, Op. 88; Fantasiestücke, Op. 111; Märchenbilder, Op. 113; Märchenerzählungen; Adagio & Allegro in A flat, Op. 70
Asko Heiskanen (clarinet), Reka Szilvay (violin), Dmitry Sinkovsky (viola), Alexander Rudin (cello), Aapo Häkkinen (piano)
Naxos 8.573589   79:58 mins

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There’s a famous daguerreotype of Robert and Clara Schumann taken in 1850, around the time most of the pieces here were composed. The picture is reproduced (in reverse and garishly colourised) on the CD booklet cover, and it shows Clara seated at the piano while her husband pensively leans with his elbow on the instrument. The piano can easily be identified as having been made by the Paris firm of Pleyel, whose instruments were favoured by Chopin; and it is an original Pleyel of 1843 which is used for this recording. In a detailed note, the pianist, Aapo Häkkinen, claims that Schumann not only used the sustaining pedal very liberally, but would also have expected most chords to be arpeggiated. The ubiquitous spread chords in Häkkinen’s playing take some getting used to, and his generous pedalling occasionally results in an unfocused sound, given the church acoustic in which these recordings were made.

The pieces show Schumann’s late Biedermeier art at its most beautiful, and the period instruments offer a vivid idea of what house music in his day might have sounded like. Performances are very accomplished, though the stringed instruments could occasionally have made a more positive contribution: a movement such as the ‘Duet’ from the piano trio Fantasy Pieces Op. 88 cries out for a more cantabile approach. Three of these cycles were recently recorded in more traditional style by Tabea Zimmermann, Jörg Widmann and Dénes Várjon (Myrios Classics), but these new versions offer a thought-provoking alternative.

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Misha Donat