Brahms, Schumann: Sehnsuchtswalzer Variations (Variations on a Theme of Schubert); Impromptus on a Theme by Clara Wieck; Variations on an Original Theme (Ghost),

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Schumann
LABELS: Athene Minerva
WORKS: Sehnsuchtswalzer Variations (Variations on a Theme of Schubert); Impromptus on a Theme by Clara Wieck; Variations on an Original Theme (Ghost),
PERFORMER: Andreas Boyde (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ATH CD 23
Apart from the Clara Wieck Variations, most of these pieces will be novelties, even for some well-listened Schumann-lovers. The ‘Ghost’ Variations were the last composition Schumann finished before his complete mental breakdown in 1854. Like most of Schumann’s last works, they have been written off as symptomatic of their composer’s failing mental powers. Admittedly, some of the writing suffers from opaque or fussy figuration, but the theme itself (which Schumann believed was dictated to him by the spirit of Schubert) is heavenly – Schubert could well have thought of it; and Brahms was impressed enough to compose a four-hand variation set of his own upon it (included at the end of this disc, in a solo arrangement by Theodor Kirchner). And the ‘real’ Schubert Variations – reconstructed from the somewhat fragmentary manuscript by pianist Andreas Boyde – stand comparison with the much better-known Op. 5 set. Boyde’s strong, clear playing serves the music well – especially in the witty, pseudo-academic counterpoint of Op. 5, or in the denser textures of the ‘Ghost’ and Beethoven Variations. He isn’t always the most supple or poetic of players, but he still makes an impressive case for these exotic rarities. If you think you know your Schumann, listen and have your horizons broadened. Stephen Johnson

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