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

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Piano Sonata in F sharp minor, Op. 11; Carnaval
PERFORMER: Evgeny Kissin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 63885 2
Kissin, natural-born virtuoso of phenomenal gifts, has sometimes proved a disappointment on disc, leaving the impression that while the fingers may be almost unsurpassable in the power, brilliance and speed they command, the imagination is under-developed.

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Not here, though. Of the several Schumann interpretations he has already committed to disc, these two strike me as by far the most evolved. Excitement is not lacking. Few Schumann pianists combine such bright glitter and transparency in their textures (this remains true in the somewhat disjointed finale of the sonata no less than throughout the miraculous Carnaval kaleidoscope); few maintain such unflagging forward movement. But the readings preserve an inner and outer balance, and the results are enthralling.

This Carnaval is indeed brilliant. With flying cross-accents and a hurtling propulsiveness tempered by perfect control of detail, Kissin races through ‘Papillons’ and ‘Reconnaissance’ faster than almost any other pianist on disc. Yet this is never at the espense of characterisation: each piece manifests true originality of viewpoint, a madcap, scattershot, whirlwind vivacity that I find captivating.

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Older, more mature pianists tend to distil more tenderness, uncover more half-lights in this work – the classic recordings of Cortot, Rachmaninov, Myra Hess and (my benchmark) the direct-speaking, incomparably innig Annie Fischer (1959) achieve a dimension lacking here. And though Kissin’s Sonata performance is a tour de force of Romantic dash and sympathy for the work’s wayward beauties, I would not prefer it to Andsnes’s more subtly poetic one. That said, this Schumann disc has a great deal to offer. Max Loppert