Piano Sonata in F sharp minor, Op. 11; Concert sans orchestre, Op. 14

Bernd Glemser (piano)




Naxos 8.554275
65:09 mins

Both Schumann's F sharp minor and F minor Sonatas are flawed works, though full of inspired music. Bernd Glemser establishes a new standard in sympathetic thoughtfulness and persuades us that in both sonatas virtues far outweigh faults.

I listened to this recording just after hearing Kissin play the F sharp minor Sonata in London, and I must say Glemser could teach Kissin a thing or two about the overall design of the outer movements, in which he balances the contrast between dynamic and reflective elements without losing a sense of direction. In the second movement Aria he is gentle, relaxed, and most eloquently lyrical. The scherzo is tense and precisely etched, while the burlesque Intermezzo which interrupts it is scrupulously declaimed exactly as Schumann wrote it. If it doesn't really work, one might conclude that the example of late Beethoven sometimes led Romantic composers up blind alleys.

In the finale Glemser tends, as in the first movement, to modify Schumann's dynamic markings, yet only a pedant could object, because his sense of purpose is so secure.

The F minor Sonata, or 'Concerto without Orchestra', was particularly admired by Horowitz, though the sound quality of his recording was unacceptably poor. Nikolai Demidenko, on Hyperion, includes the extra scherzo and a variation in the third movement which Schumann dropped in his revised version heard here. Glemser has a more disciplined control of detail than Demidenko, and is more vivid, more constantly aware of his left hand, than Ian Hobson, excellent though he is. Naxos's recorded sound is also cleaner than either, which makes it all the more regrettable that no one did anything to cure the noisy vibration of some part of the piano frame, which occasionally provides a percussive accompaniment, like very quiet maracas. Adrian Jack