Schumann: Piano Sonata in F sharp minor, Op. 11; Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 14

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Sonata in F sharp minor, Op. 11; Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 14
PERFORMER: Nikolai Demidenko (piano)
Schumann’s three piano sonatas are much less frequently performed and recorded than his Fantasy or cycles like Carnaval. They are technically very difficult and the two recorded here also present particular challenges to do with musical sense. Demidenko has several waves of inspiration in the F sharp minor – the bass accents in the Introduction, the transition to the Allegro, the tigerish yet elegant Scherzo, bold Intermezzo, and so on. In one passage of accented chords in the finale, he digs his heels in and produces a nasty hard tone – Schumann marked it to be faster, but then you have the problem of diminishing tension afterwards when it should be maintained.


The F minor Sonata originally had more music than Schumann ever published, though he did issue a second edition which restored a good deal. Demidenko plays a scherzo Schumann discarded altogether as the second movement, and also reinstates a deleted variation in the middle movement. He plays more of the sonata than Horowitz used to. The variation movement is quite mild, and the scherzo that follows it here is oddly staid. But the first movement is charged with heroic passion and the finale is manic, threatening at one point to break up – or down – altogether. Demidenko’s playing is a marvel of precision and fluency. For once, the stormy landscape on the cover seems utterly appropriate. Adrian Jack