Sophie Pacini: In Between
An attractive theme for a programme, this, with Clara Schumann rubbing shoulders with her husband, and Fanny Mendelssohn allowed to shine beside her brother Felix. The choices, too, are well contrasted, blending the familiar with the unknown, the virtuoso with the technically straightforward. Sadly, the execution of much of the music leaves a lot to be desired.
Were I hearing any of these pieces for the first time, had I not heard most of them played by some of the greatest pianists of the last century, perhaps I would be impressed by the playing of Sophie Pacini, a young German-Italian pianist (b1991, Munich), but the opening track set alarm bells ringing, one of the lumpiest accounts of the Schumann-Liszt ‘Widmung’ I have ever heard. Listen to Eileen Joyce (1936) or Jorge Bolet (various) multa inter alios and you’ll see what I mean. Pacini’s rubato sounds applied externally, an element that prevails throughout the recital, and with the leading voice often confused with the accompaniment. Schumann’s Fantasiestücke and Toccata suffer from a heavy hand and too much pedal. I could have overlooked the shortcomings of her Variations sérieuses had I not recently listened to a wonderful (previously unissued) account by Abram Chasins made in 1931 (now on ‘Landmarks of Recorded Pianism, Vol 1’ – see review below) with a degree of tonal finesse and imagination unknown to Pacini (listen to Var 11, for example).
Fanny Mendelssohn’s single Song Without Words and three out of the five by her brother are the most successful items here, played with great warmth and sincerity, as is Clara Schumann’s rarely heard Scherzo, Op 14 (though more dynamic contrast and a sharper rhythmic stability would be welcome). Pacini has a good finger technique, a lot of energy and, according to her publicity, a charismatic stage presence. Perhaps that will be enough to see her through. But for a recording that invites repeated listening, I’m afraid it is not.