Schumann: Piano Sonata in F sharp minor, Op. 11; Piano Sonata in G minor, Op. 22; Waldszenen

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Live Classics
WORKS: Piano Sonata in F sharp minor, Op. 11; Piano Sonata in G minor, Op. 22; Waldszenen
PERFORMER: Eliso Virsaladze (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: LCL 301 ADD
Eliso Virsaladze is a very powerful performer, but the main problem with her Live Classics disc is precisely that it is live; most of it comes from a Moscow recital in midwinter 1973 in front of an audience whose members’ bronchial problems are much too evident much too often. While Virsaladze gives a ravishing account of the Second Sonata’s slow movement – full of premonitions of the darkness that Schumann’s failing mental health would bring to him – persistent coughers do their level best to wreck the whole thing. She is occasionally heavy-handed – bashing somewhat in the Second Sonata’s scherzo and plodding in the Waldszenen’s ‘Herberge’. But on the whole her Waldszenen is very imaginative, its famous Prophet Bird delicate and whimsically poetic.

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Marc-André Hamelin, a pianist frequently associated with rarely-heard music, turns in his Schumann disc to the jugular vein of the Romantic piano repertoire – mercifully with no noises off. The Second Sonata is tenderer, if less haunted, than Virsaladze’s account; and there are some glorious moments in the Fantasy, the first movement deeply thought through and handled with especially fine gradations of tone colour and inner voicing. He reminds the listener, too, that in this work Schumann was not thinking only of his ‘ferne Geliebte’ Clara Wieck, but of creating ‘a monument to Beethoven’: that monumental quality is evident throughout the march (its coda taken at quite a lick) and in the powerful climaxes of the final movement. Perhaps he pushes the tempo too much in some of the Études symphoniques, but there’s no shortage of nervous energy or virtuoso flair. Jessica Duchen