This programme is built around around two substantial Fantasias for piano: the Mozart in C Minor K475, composed in 1785, and the early Fantasie in C by Schumann, written in 1836. Although only 50 years separate them, the two works fall distinctly into the Classical and Romantic periods of European music. They share a free form in common (in spite of the Schumann falling, sonata-like, into three movements), but their differences are fundamental.
Mozart’s idea of the fantasy is to be free with keyboard decoration, and to roam through different keys and thematic ideas not dictated by a predetermined structure. Schumann’s idea of fantasy is an emotional one, ranging through those heightened states so beloved of the early Romantics, namely fiery passion and introspective melancholy.
Mozart’s Piano Sonata No 14 is also in C Minor: a dark key for the composer (as for Beethoven), so there is an argument that a more Romantic approach is justified. In both works pianist Piotr Anderszewski gives us just that, to generally good effect. He is suitably stormy in the Sonata’s first movement, but I find the slow movement – for all his sensitivity – to be too introverted. He approaches it with eyes lowered: music so sacred it must be treated with worshipful respect. Here, and in the third movement (which is marked Molto allegro!) this attitude prevails – but this is Mozart the Classicist, not Schumann the Romantic. Recordings by fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout have shown us how Mozart’s music sounded to its composer, with chiseled clarity and not a dollop of treacle in sight.
Predictably, Anderszewski shines in the 32-minute Schumann Fantasie Op. 17, not least in his mastery of its challenging technical demands. He unleashes plenty of power in the first movement but is most impressive in the extraordinary third movement, where a Schubertian melody creeps out of the texture from time to time, only to be deflected by a sudden unrelated modulation. This is exquisite Schumann playing.
The set of Ghost Variations was Schumann’s last composition, written in the shadow of his encroaching madness and later suicide attempt. Frankly, it is a minor work, little more than a handful of textural studies on an unmemorable chorale theme that the composer had used to better effect in his Violin Concerto. I find Anderszewski a tad heavy on the sustaining pedal here. Overall the piano sound is rich and warm, but not bright. Recommended primarily for the Schumann Fantasie.