The two extremes of Schumann’s personality exist side by side in the two sets of pieces recorded here. The Fantasiestücke of 1837 alternate between the introverted, reflective Schumann (his Eusebius alter ego) and the extrovert, somewhat manic Schumann (Florestan). No wonder, as the sleeve note states, this was regarded as “difficult and private music”.

In the eight Kreisleriana of the following year, Schumann juxtaposed these expressive extremes more blatantly, even chaotically. Pianists attempting these pieces not only require considerable fluency at the keyboard; they need to convey the sudden changes of attitude. When that is achieved, as it is here, the music springs to life and the work of Schumann’s contemporaries seems impersonal by comparison.

As befitting a great chamber musician, Imogen Cooper’s strengths lie in the detail of her playing and a finely honed ability to separate important thematic material from accompaniment in thicker textures. While reflective moments are bewitchingly otherworldly in her hands, she finds power in the fast music without resorting to overemphasis (or, let’s be frank, bashing).

Cooper is equally at home in the variations Brahms transcribed from his String Sextet Op 18, but the prize of this disc is the Schumann, where a distinguished pianist shows us exactly how this “difficult” music should go.

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