Schumann: Kreisleriana; Abegg Variations; Drei Romanzen, Op. 28

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Kreisleriana; Abegg Variations; Drei Romanzen, Op. 28
PERFORMER: Volker Banfield (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 999 598-2
Volker Banfield has garnered much praise for his playing of a very wide repertoire, nowhere more so than for his Schumann-playing. From the very opening of Kreisleriana here, his affinity with Schumann’s highly complex emotional character is abundantly clear, as is his command of the keyboard. Powerful, but never blatantly so, beautifully rounded in tone, and structurally far-seeing, his playing is impressive in its authority and self-evident commitment. And anyone harbouring any doubts as to his virtuosity should listen to the coda of the third piece in Kreisleriana, which is mightily impressive. For my own tastes, he’s perhaps a little over-generous in his pedalling, relying almost entirely on dynamic contrasts to clarify the often contrapuntal weave of Schumann’s textures. But if the sound-world is predominantly dense and lush, he nevertheless highlights many interesting and unfamiliar features. Sometimes this results in banishing the obvious foreground to the back seat, as it were, which in itself rules this release out as a first choice for anyone not yet familiar with the music. For all its undoubted excellence, though, I miss the breadth of fantasy (the word itself is used by Schumann with reference to the suite as a whole) and the quicksilver changes of light, mood and texture that one gets from Martha Argerich in her characteristically electrifying and poetic account on DG. But she, too, is perhaps too idiosyncratic to be a first choice. For that I would turn to Horowitz’s first recording (on Sony, not his later DG version), which is unlikely ever to be surpassed. Jeremy Siepmann