This is the ninth volume of Tacet’s series devoted to Russian pianist Evgeni Koroliov. The pianist, a Muscovite born in 1949, has become a bit of a connoisseur’s confection since the first release of his works on this label in 1990—Bach’s Art of Fugue, no less. Koroliov possesses a firm and unyielding technique, a stormy temperament, and a rare clarity of line and shapeliness of phrase that are all too often overlooked among many of today’s younger lions and lionesses. He is not afraid to let Schumann be Schumann, with all of the tempestuousness that the name implies; yet he also avoids any spilled-over histrionics that so often mar the unique and unequivocal sense of form and style that Schumann worked so hard to put into his music. His Romantic outpouring may have indeed been infused with sweat and feverish inspiration, but we also know that he was hypersensitive to the construction and formal workings of his often informal-sounding fantasies.
Here we are offered three of his most astounding pieces, and shamefully only two movements of a fourth. Indeed, as the Forest Scenes are among my favorite pieces, I approached this disc with not a little anger when I saw how it was organized, with the two Waldszenen book-ending the entire program. But my anger was quickly diffused as I leaned into the stormy opening of the Kreisleriana, and the rest of the album proved just as rewarding. Indeed, this is one of the best Schumann albums now available, and it competes readily with some of the many greats of the past. Just for comparison, I played Radu Lupu’s translucent account of the Kreisleriana, a splendid reading of vast openness and thoughtfulness. To my mind, Koroliov is closest to his approach, so if you know that Decca recording you will have an idea of what to expect.
Argerich, ever the poet, alternates between extremes almost every moment. Hers is the spectacular reading, one that would put Schumann on the map if ever he needed such a thing, and the DGG recording sounds great. And even the extraordinary Horowitz, on his CBS recording from the late sixties, still has wonderful sound, and the amazing ability to clarify Schumann’s lines using half the pedal that virtually everyone else uses. For beauty of tone and a lofty angularity that puts the others in the dust, he is your man.
But Koroliov definitely knows the composer well, and I don’t think that even the virtues of these other players, great as they are, negate the many varied and truthful things he has to say to us about music that has been as twisted and pulled apart as any of the Romantics. His is the voice of the close acquaintance, the inner circle, and the trusted friend. The fact that he is speaking in such outstanding sonics only adds to the desirability of this must-have release.
— Steven Ritter