SCHUMANN: Fantasiestücke; Kreisleriana; Brahms: Theme and Variations in D minor – review


Imogen Cooper sets out on her survey of Schumann's complete piano music for Chandos with two of his greatest cycles. Alongside Carnaval and the Davidsbündlertänze, the eight pieces of the Fantasiestücke Op 12 and the eight of Kreisleriana Op 16 perhaps define Schumann's special qualities as a composer for the piano better than any other of his works, and in both of them the competition on disc is fierce. Cooper, though, proves a wonderfully tactful and sympathetic guide to the boundless imagination of the piano writing.

Other pianists may make this music sound more virtuosic or more winsome, but she projects the emotional turbulence of the fifth of the Fantasiestücke without making it overwrought, delivers a wonderfully polished account of the seventh without it descending into slick display, and steers a perfectly poised course through the even more sharply contrasting numbers of Kreisleriana. Between the two cycles there's an intriguing oddity – Brahms's own piano arrangement of the second movement of his Op 18 String Sextet, whose emotional restraint is a great foil for the unbridled fantasy on either side of it.

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