Studio Odradek is an audibly small, acoustically controlled space where the instrument is a (2008) Steinway Model B. To some extent, the restricted but not unattractive resulting sound reflects the character of Juan Carlos’s concept. Everything is transparent, neatly executed with a dynamic spectrum of f to p, in tidy performances that rarely stray beyond the confines of the studio.
Nevertheless, Carlos’s Carnaval has some interesting individual touches. For instance, he includes ‘Sphinx’, those three strange bars, different permutations of the A S C H theme that occurs throughout the work, inserted between No 8, ‘Réplique’, and No 9, ‘Papillons’. Most pianists omit them. Carlos copies Rachmaninov’s solution (r1929) of a sinister sustained bass tremolo and prefacing the third section with an added A natural. In No 15, ‘Pantalon et Colmbine’, he highlights the right hand’s quaver G and crotchet F in the second bar (which is what Schumann’s notation indicates) instead of following, as is generally favoured, the downwards trajectory of staccato semiquavers as the leading voice. However, he gives us the conventional view of ‘Chopin’ (No 12), poetic and lyrical, of course, but not agitato or forte as marked (turn to Hamelin – Hyperion, 1/06 – for this).
The coupling is apt. Schumann’s original title for Carnaval was Fasching: Schwänke auf vier Noten (‘Carnival: Jests on Four Notes’); Faschingsschwank aus Wien, composed four years later (1839), is another carnival with those magical four letters ASCH. The same emotional and tonal constraints pertain but listening to Michelangeli’s live performance (1957, Royal Festival Hall – Testament, 12/96) reveals how much more there is to this wonderful score, and how much it benefits from the imagination of a greater artist and the singing tone of a full-size grand – especially in the Intermezzo, surely one of the composer’s most impassioned utterances, to say nothing of the skyrocketing finale.
Carlos concludes his programme with the Geistervariationen, a work that might seem out of place with what has gone before but which the pianist feels depicts ‘an ethereal, ghostly carnival from within, probing different facets of a single character’.