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R Schumann: Fantasie in C major; Kreisleriana; Arabesque

Yeol Eum Son (piano) (Onyx)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

R Schumann
Fantasie in C major, Op. 17; Kreisleriana, Op. 16; Arabeske in C major, Op. 18
Yeol Eum Son (piano)
Onyx ONYX4202   71:40 mins

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A note of warning: Yeol Eum Son restores the original ending of the Fantasie, cut before publication – this despite the assertion in the notes (apparently hers) that cutting it was ‘the right decision’. It’s very moving, with a refined sensuous beauty, as is quite a lot of the playing on this disc, and the recording is well matched. So why not four stars or more? Well, however much I may have enjoyed the songlike expressiveness and the songlike unity she brings to so much of this music, I kept noticing what I was missing.

Often the textures supporting the singing line seem not much more than accompaniment, however lovely. Where are the quirky, nervy, sometimes meltingly poignant little interjections from within the texture, those subversive inner voices that that seem to speak from some strange semi-conscious hinterland? And while it’s wonderful to hear the opening of Kreisleriana so clearly, finely focused, where’s the sense of delirium, the vertiginous ‘circling within circles’ described by Hoffmann’s hero who inspired the cycle?

Yeol Eum Son’s technique is formidable: she takes on the technical horrors of the Fantasie’s middle movement with breathtaking elegance and confidence. But when you’re as accomplished as she is, you can make this music sound too easy. It’s beautiful, but is it Schumann?

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Stephen Johnson