HANS SITT: Drei Fantasiestücke, Op. 58; ERNST NAUMANN: Drei Fantasiestücke, Op. 5; REINECKE: Drei Fantasiestücke, Op. 43; GADE: Fantasiestücke, Op. 43; SCHUMANN: Fantasiestücke, Op. 73 – Ilya Hoffman, viola,/Sergey Koudriakov, piano – Caro Mitis multichannel SACD CM 0092006 [Distr. by Albany] ****1/2:
This recording centers on one of the most durable and characteristic traditions of 19th-century German Romanticism, the Fantasiestück or fantasy piece. The notes to the recording helpfully trace the genesis of the fantasy piece to its roots in German Romantic literature. Musically, the locus of the fantasy piece is Mendelssohn’s Leipzig, so it is largely the province of classically inclined Romantics far afield from the Liszt-Wagner axis.
The first set of pieces to be called Fantasiestücke was Schumann’s Op. 12 (1837) for solo piano, and this work set the standard for all such pieces that followed, including Schumann’s own glowing Fantasiestücke Op. 73 of 1849. Schumann’s Op. 12 pieces have intriguing titles such as “Soaring,” “Why?” and “The End of the Fable,” but as with all Schumann’s short character pieces, they create a mood rather than tell a story à la the Lisztian tone poem.
It is apt that this CD recital ends with the Schumann, because his work is not only at the root of the fantasy piece tradition, it is easily the finest on the disc. I have always thought that if you want to know what German musical Romanticism is all about, just turn to the first movement of Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony or to the last piece of the Fantasiestücke, Op. 73. With its big-hearted melody and swooping lines, it could be called “Soaring” as well, but Schumann eschews literary titles for his three fantasy pieces; this one is marked simply Rasch und mit Feuer (“fast and with fire”).
In fact, by coincidence or design, this recital builds in quality from the rather ho-hum offerings of Hans Sitt, a musical pedagogue, to the somewhat more interesting pieces by Ernst Naumann, who spent most of his time as a musical editor, to the real excellences of Niels Gade and of course Schumann. Niels Gade’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 43, is one of the composer’s most often-played works, and you can hear why. Arranged like a latter-day Baroque sonata, alternating slow-fast-slow-fast, the Fantasiestücke comprise a highly satisfying little suite, with ripe melodies and well-contrasted emotional landscapes. Gade is one of the many Rodney Dangerfields of 19th-century music—he just doesn’t get the respect he deserves.
Not far behind, though, is Reinecke’s Drei Fantasiestücke, with its appealingly boisterous last-movement humoresque entitled Jahrmarkt-Scene (“fun-fair scene”). Long-lived and with long careers, neither Gade nor Reinecke ever left the Mendelssohn-Schumann orbit, which can indeed be said of Sitt and Naumann also. So if you like Schumann, this entire program should appeal to you. As should the playing of Ilya Hoffman. A student of Yuri Bashmet, Hoffman produces a rich, wine-dark sound that is just right for the Schumann, where he turns to the cello version of the work. (The bottom string of the viola is tuned a minor third lower than usual so that the player can hit all the notes of the cello score.)
Hoffman is very capably partnered by Sergy Koudriakov, and they’re captured in a nicely intimate and lifelike recording. This is one of the most pleasurable chamber-music discs to come my way lately. I especially liked the CD cover art, a drawing of an early 19th-century musical soirée by Ferdinand Staeger, more famous (or infamous) for his Nazi-era paintings.
— Lee Passarella