WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 11; Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 22; Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 14
PERFORMER: Volker Banfield (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 999 217-2 DDD
Schumann wrote these sonatas in the mid-1830s, by which time, as he himself acknowledged, the form was generally deemed to be old-fashioned. No. 3 was originally sold, on the advice of his publisher, as a ‘Concert sans orchestre’ – a solo concerto. It remains the case that his more manifestly Romantic, programmatic and autobiographical piano music is better known, and more often recorded, than are the sonatas. Schumann’s own ambivalence to the form is apparent in the music, which is even more elusive than usual, occasionally adhering to the Classical structure but more often episodic and fleeting. The lyrical, song-like slow sections are sandwiched between some of the most furious passages Schumann penned.
Volker Banfield’s accounts are impressively fearless. He restores the original, fiendishly demanding finale of No. 2 and negotiates the changes in mood and the extraordinary rhythmic experimentation with sureness of touch. Pollini remains master in this territory, but this disc has the advantage of containing all three sonatas together. William Humphreys-Jones