Schumann: Piano Sonata No. 1 in F sharp minor; Fantasy in C

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 1 in F sharp minor; Fantasy in C
PERFORMER: Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56414 2
Dénes Várjon is a young Hungarian who shares a heritage with his fellow countrymen Kócsis and Schiff and has attended many masterclasses with the latter. Schiff’s influence is clear in the way Várjon articulates some of his phrasing. However, the disc is disappointing on two counts: firstly, Várjon sounds rather in a hurry most of the time and, secondly, the sound quality is harmfully poor, the piano coming across as woody and the acoustic impossibly dry. There are, however, a few moments of exceptional beauty, notably the coda of the Arabeske and a gloriously tender final ‘posthumous’ variation in the Symphonic Études.

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Alicia de Larrocha, by contrast, is a mature artist with no need to hurry. Her interpretations of the bizarre seven-movement Humoreske and the Fantasy, Op. 17, are masterful, full of assurance and command. She negotiates the Humoreske with aplomb and humanity, and especially successful is the first movement of the Fantasy, taken at a leisurely tempo which gives full rein to the music’s showers of ecstasy. Sound quality here is state-of-the-art.

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Leif Ove Andsnes also offers the Fantasy, along with the First Piano Sonata. A quick glance at timings encapsulates the difference between his interpretation and De Larrocha’s: he takes the first two movements considerably faster while the last movement is considerably slower. Andsnes brings to the music an extrovert, youthful sweep which gives the central march something of the feverish triumph of the march in Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, but he crowns it with a deeply poignant love song in the final movement. The First Sonata is likewise shaped with natural intelligence and musicality, the excursions into darker realms during the last movement being especially noteworthy.