MOZART; SCHUMANN Fantasies
It’s questionable whether Mozart intended his C minor Fantasy, K475, to be yoked with the C minor Sonata, K457, in performance. Although he published the pieces together, the assumption that the one is an ‘ouverture vers la Sonata’, as Warner’s booklet-note writer would have it, is surely open to challenge. Why should they be played cheek by jowl when a listener is likely to find that they are autonomous works, of exceptional ambition, that have little to say to each other? Artur Schnabel, Alfred Brendel, Edwin Fischer and Clifford Curzon all agreed; while other fine artists have disagreed, their number now including Piotr Anderszewski.
In the Sonata Anderszewski is rather self-conscious. Why such stentorian fortissimo left-hand octaves at the beginning? I regretted too his fallibility in the timing of pauses and silences in the second and third movements. The slow movement, one of the finest in Mozart’s piano sonatas, should convey the presence of a theatrical character with something to sing about, but that effect is only fitful here. The work is not completely inhabited and revealed. In the Fantasy I take issue with exaggerations of tempo and dynamics pushed to extremes. This is edgy Mozart, recorded as long ago as 2006.
The Schumann Fantasy dates from 2013 and shows the consummate player of this composer we already know. The first movement is the most powerful manifestation of the composer’s genius and his most successful and original essay in a large form. Most pianists want to measure themselves against its demands; I count Anderszewski’s well-recorded version among the best. A current runs through and a line held. His control of mass and pace in the second movement is masterly and allows him to bring to it a welcome variety of sound. When the virtuosity called for in the coda arrives you know he will be on top of it. Sviatoslav Richter, at a quicker tempo, encompasses the coda with no feeling that it has been tacked on to the rest. He recorded the Fantasy for EMI at their Abbey Road Studios in 1961 (3/93) and it remains one of his finest achievements. I shall continue to return to Anderszewski’s new version with pleasure but with Richter you sense that, like an eagle in flight, he is without peer in surveying the entire terrain.
Anderszewski’s CD is completed by the last music Schumann wrote, the so-called Ghost Variations. When you love the music of a composer everything is important, but in Schumann as late as this you’re conscious of the difficulty he had in generating notes. The contrast with the Fantasy couldn’t be greater. Schumann managed the last of the five variations in 1854 after being pulled from the Rhine by the bargemen.
We are not quite done. A ‘bonus’ DVD is offered here which is a 36-minute film by Anderszewski entitled Warsaw is my Name. The title is explained by a short passage of eloquent prose at the beginning that we are invited to read as it scrolls. We’re to take it as personal, I’m sure, and it makes you sit up. Then, without words, there are pictures, on the move but measured, asking us to look, follow, walk, accompany: along the river and the streets, in parks and across bridges, taking in monuments, vistas, apartment blocks, the trams, plus some footage of the destruction of the city in the Second World War. But this is no travelogue. We see through Anderszewski’s eyes and take in his counterpoint of image and music as he plays – three Chopin mazurkas (complete) and the concluding section of the A flat Polonaise, part of Szymanowski’s ‘Scheherazade’ (from Masques) and Third Sonata, and every note of Webern’s Variations Op 27 (electrifying). As an assemblage it is convincing, companionable, persuasive, hugely intelligent, unpredictable, totally without cliché. I know I shall always want to listen to Anderszewski, but if he’s also going to make films occasionally that’s also fine by me.