The tempestuous Cuban pianist Juana Zayas (on her Hamburg Steinway) seems the natural inheritor of the mantle of Jorge Bolet, a Romantic pianist with big ideas for a grand technique. That astonishing combination of exuberant vivacity and beauty which the Schumann style demands, along with the sense of affected intimacy, lies easily at Zayas’ command. The 1835 Carnaval Suite (22-23 September 2002), the series of fantasies (or sphinxes) on four-notes, glides, rolls, thunders by, in motley procession. Zayas gobbles up the keyboard challenges–the runs, ornaments, metrics, spans, and playful willfulnesss–in one fell swoop. She can linger over a phrase, as in Coquette and Reconnaissance, when she cares to; she can make nervous sparks fly from Papillons and Valse allemande. The Dancing Letters (and Pantalon and Columbine), the underlying anagram for the entire piece, whirl and glitter in fervent passions. Besides Florestan and Eusebius, the Romantic cast of characters embraces an ardent Chiarina, an erotically-inclined Chopin, a resolute Estrella, and a febrile Paganini. The Promenade, after the introspective Aveu, urges the big, operatic gesture, itself a prelude to the iconoclastic, self-confident March of the David-Leaguers against the that body of culture-Philistines which never goes away.
The Arabesque, Toccata, and eight Fantasiestuecke (24-27 September 2004) traverse equally familiar Schumann territory, but Zayas executes each with such poetry and musical aplomb that we easily forget we are visiting old friends. The dreamy, feminine side of Schumann’s character emerges amidst solemn chorale motifs. Arabesque has an easy nostalgia for the dream that hearkens more to Myra Hess than Bolet‚s vulcanism. The 1832 Toccata literally smashes a twisted right hand into your mind, Zayas’ busy fingers asserting their independence at every bar in manner offering a serious challenge to Mr. Horowitz on this one. Thundering and rippling double notes everywhere, the registers of the piano compete with each other for supremacy. The 1837 Fantasy-Pieces after E.T.A. Hoffmann and Jacques Callot allow the alternate sides of Schumann’s artistic ego to roam free, and under Zayas they sing and boast in full measure. While Moiseiwitsch remains my favorite in Des Abends, Zayas rivals my old Ania Dorfmann RCA inscription (LSC 2107) for fulsome energy in the ensuing sketches. Her Aufschwung and Traumes-Wirren are more in line with Backhaus’ and Richter’s muscular readings, heavy breathing included, courtesy of engineer Tim Martyn. Grillen is both march and countrified song, Florestan and Eusebius combined in rather percussive terms under Zayas. Hothouse fever infects In der Nacht, more fire than Schumann’s own claim to sea water (for the myth of Hero and Leander) warrants. Happily, Fabel’s skittish allusions to Papillons relents a bit in dynamic intensity, and Zayas can stop pulverizing us in the manner of Olga Kern. She could save some of her Dionysian temperament for the Schumann sonatas or the Fantasie. Ende vom Lied proceeds as another David’s League march, rather clangorous to my taste. Tone it down, Ms. Zayas; we know you have strong fingers.
— Gary Lemco