SCHUMANN: Piano Sonata in G Minor, Op. 22; Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17 – Anton Kuerti, piano – Doremi

by | Sep 8, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUMANN: Piano Sonata in G Minor, Op. 22; Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17 – Anton Kuerti, piano – Doremi DDR-6608, 55:40 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:

Austrian pianist Anton Kuerti (b. 1938) ranks among the most esteemed virtuosos active today, and this abbreviated Schumann recital (24 August 2009) from the Willowdale United Church, Toronto captures him in full throttle, with the Sonata in G Minor (1838) arranged by Kuerti to accommodate his own vision, which includes an interpolation of the “Original Finale” as a second scherzo in the course of its five movements. Kuerti deliberately addresses a piano work renowned for its bravura–and capricious–challenges, such as asking the performer to play the wicked 16th notes of the first movement “as fast as possible,” then “faster and faster.” The driving syncopations Kuerti gobbles up without any sacrifice of the innate G Major poetry that peeks out at us in the lyrical sections. 

The lovely Andantino in 6/8 constitutes a moment of great charm, almost a song without words by Chopin or Mendelssohn. The repeated patterns owe something to Bach preludes, here poetic and eminently sincere. The first Scherzo quite startles in its concentrated brevity: sixty-four bars, of which only eight receive a repeat. Perky and a mite waspish, it succumbs to a bit of sentiment in the small trio. At the fourth movement, Kuerti inserts the (1866) Presto Passionato that had served as the original finale. The askew metrics defeat a clear sense of the beat, and the hands compete in various registers for melodic supremacy. The thickness of the texture warrants its association with the Concerto without Orchestra that Schumann conceived for his wife Clara as part of his Op. 14. The restructured finale takes its cue from Haydn’s penchant for sonata-rondo structures in three parts. Its quick shifts of affect echo Schuman’s suites like the Humoreske or the Carnival-Jest from Vienna, rife with dazzling cross-rhythms. The “Quasi-cadenza” marking near the end reminds us of the ambitions of this work that tests even devoted Davids-Leaguers’ technical mettle.

The great C Major Fantasie (1839) pays homage to Beethoven, but no less so to Clara Schumann, whose Romance varie receives a quotation and transformation. The delay of the C Major chord for most of the piece aligns the work directly to Wagner’s Tristan, which employs the same procedure, over a vaster emotional territory. Kuerti applies a robust marcato to the syncopations that evolve in the first movement, whose “In the Style of Legend” elicits lyrical polyphonies and plaintive introspection from Kuerti. The “one soft note” that sounds to the “secret listener” from Schlegel seems to gravitate between A and A-flat. Even Clara favored the second movement above the others, a grand march in A-B-A form, its trills and dotted rhythms a source of endless energy. Kuerti notes that the middle section bears a melodic semblance to Liszt’s Les Preludes, appropriate since Liszt received the dedication. The last pages bristle with excitement, Kuerti’s legerdemain a blur of incandescent virtuosity. The influence of Beethoven’s Sonata quasi fantasia, Op. 27, No. 2 infiltrates the gorgeous nocturne Schumann offers as his closing movement. It moves to two large climaxes balanced by an abbreviated coda. Kuerti mentions that the second main theme pays its homage to a theme from the Allegretto of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, kindred spirits in the heroic mold to which Kuerti has responded with “truth and poetry.”

 — Gary Lemco

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