Juan Carlos performs Schumann’s Carnaval; Faschingsschwank aus Wien, and Theme and Variations in E flat ‘Geistervariationen’

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Odradek
ALBUM TITLE: Schumann
WORKS: Carnaval; Faschingsschwank aus Wien; Theme and Variations in E flat ‘Geistervariationen’
PERFORMER: Juan Carlos (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ODRCD342

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The Spanish pianist Juan Carlos has assembled an interesting choice of repertoire for this all-Schumann disc: the ever-popular Carnaval, the Faschingsschwank aus Wien (a carnival jest of another kind) and the introspectiveGeistervariationen, Schumann’s last, troubled and troubling piano work. The composer’s alter-egos Florestan and Eusebius dance their way through the character portraits of Carnaval plus the naughty hint of the Marseillaise in Faschingsschwank, while the Geistervariationen leaves only Eusebius, trembling on the edge of dissolution. 

Carlos’s playing errs if anything on the side of caution, he proves himself a deeply sensitive musician, excelling in the processional moments of Carnavaland the impassioned Intermezzo of the Faschingsschwank. Tempos are occasionally a tad ponderous and dutiful, though – the impetuosity of Florestan is rarely given its head – and Carlos’s lavish use of rubato, while thoughtful, sometimes does not catch up quite as promptly as it slows down. 

The Geistervariationen of 1854 come off best, with Carlos gently picking up on Schumann’s discordant inner voices without exaggerating the piece’s posthumously acquired pathos.

But there is one major problem with the recording, and it is not Carlos’s playing. It’s that the sound quality is so woolly that the programme might as well have been recorded in a haberdashery. It permits the piano little resonance, makes the pedal mechanism all too audible and muffles Carlos’s best attempts to introduce audible variety of tone colour.

Odradek describes itself as ‘non-profit, democratic cooperative, putting music and musicians first’, which is a pleasing aim; but neither music nor musician can benefit from this sort of aural fuzziness. 

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Jessica Duchen