Alberto Reyes
More reviews of Schumann CD in Fanfare

Check Colin Clarke's review of Alberto Reyes's Chopin disc (Fanfare 33:3) for some information on the interesting history of this performer (that disc also made Peter Burwasser's 2010 Want List). Hot on its heels is this Schumann disc, perhaps the three greatest piano hits of the composer (at least in the public eye, though it is debatable), and perhaps the three greatest piano works of the time. These pieces are in sequential opus numbers and make a formidable triumvirate. Having them on one disc is a bonus even though it poses tremendous challenges to any pianist attempting it.

With one exception (which I will get to in a moment), Uruguayan pianist Reyes, fresh off a 30-year sabbatical after deciding he really didn't want to deal with the classical artist rat race (à la Gould) gives us what is close to being a definitive reading of these works, no easy task and one that I do not utter lightly. In the liner notes, Reyes astutely goes into the always-vexed topic of pedaling in Schumann, needed to bring out the composer's unique skills in harmonic blending while coming dangerously close to a mesh of self-indulgent and blurry sound, and also avoiding the pitfalls of too dry an approach, one that more often than not completely desiccates the composer's intentions and ruins any listening experience (though Reyes allows Josef Hofmann's 1938 Casimir Hall recital of Kreisleriana as an exception that allows the "willful absence" of pedaling, available on the Marston label as The Complete Josef Hofmann, Volume6 -Casimir Hall Recital-find it on ArkivMusic). Reyes finds the imagination of the Hoffmann tales that inspired this piece reflected in the bars of Kreisleriana, and hence the need for careful consideration of every harmony and its presentation in relation to what precedes and follows it, and the consequent overlap. His is a remarkable performance, one that I think equals my modern favorite, Clara Würtz on Brilliant Classics, who also couples the Fantasy, to splendid effect.

The Kinderszenen has been recorded more times than I can count, and I reviewed a host of them recently, so check the Fanfare Archive. Competition is rugged, but this one is a poetic beauty that ranks with the best of them. This work requires an artist with a poet's sensibilities, as each piece is completely different from the previous one and is based on the composer's remembrance as an adult of times past-these are not children's pieces, and their disarming simplicity has been the undoing of a number of recordings. Reyes treats each as the delicate story-bearer it is with superlative results.

The Fantasy is one of the glories of the Romantic age; fully the equal of any Romantic piece ever composed, and consequently is played and recorded all the time. The flowery and agitated first two movements set the stage for the miraculous minimalist wonder of the last movement, and its proper conclusion is a prerequisite for a successful whole. After two cogent and wonderfully prepared opening movements, where the tempo and temperament of each is perfectly managed, Reyes seems to go against everything he has mentioned in the notes about his approach to Schumann, and though he gets the pedaling just fine, the tempo exaggeration toward the big climax, where the triplets build and build, comes to an almost standstill before the climactic chords, letting all the air out of the bag before needed. I stood up and screamed at the speakers "No, NO!" hoping that somehow he would hear me and make the needed adjustments, but it never happened. For me, this killed Schumann's Fantasy, and more importantly my own, drenched in reverie to that point but shot down coldly like the last duck over the lake trying to get south.

I still recommend this album, as no one gets it right all the time, and Reyes gets almost everything right. But for a complete Fantasy I would still stick with Würtz's cheap alternative, and there are many others. The sound on this disc is quite fluent and soft, though a little compressed compared to most digital recordings, and in need of a volume boost.

Steven E. Ritter, Fanfare
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