Schumann: Études symphoniques, Op. 13; Fantasy in C, Op. 17

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Études symphoniques, Op. 13; Fantasy in C, Op. 17
PERFORMER: Bernd Glemser (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557673
The German pianist Bernd Glemser brings some very pleasing qualities to these two Schumann masterpieces. Most notable of all is his beautiful tone quality – deep, rich and clear – enhancing the Lieder-like elements of the Fantasy, especially its final love song, which is the high point of the disc, and also enabling melodies to shine out luminously through even the busiest textures. Couple that with Glemser’s strong architectural awareness, warm, lyrical phrasing and perceptive voicing and articulation and there is much to admire. The recording quality is warm and sympathetic, too. I missed, however, the sense of élan and mercurial imagination that is so much a part of Schumann’s essential psyche: in both works, Glemser makes slightly too heavy weather at times, getting emotionally bogged down in episodes such as the ‘espressivo’ Étude No. 2, or parts of the Fantasy’s first movement, which the fleet-fingered, sweet- toned Marc-André Hamelin allows to flow more naturally. Choosing a benchmark for this particular pairing of works is not easy, since the most widely acclaimed recordings, such as Richter’s, don’t often include both on the same disc; of those currently available, however, Hamelin’s is a recording I love for its tenderness, flair and combination of humility with visionary empathy. Compared to Hamelin, Glemser often seems over-careful, reluctant to let himself go beyond a dutiful steadiness of pace in, for example, the Fantasy’s second movement (it can verge on the plodding), while his variety of colour is also more limited. Hamelin ventures further in his emotional explorations – from intense inner vulnerability to manic, unbounded joy. Jessica Duchen