Counting the album of violin sonatas he made with violinist Daniel Sepec, this is the third Schumann release from historical-instrument specialist Andreas Staier. Staier's recordings of earlier keyboard music had some really surprising sounds, but with Schumann, playing an 1837 Erard, it's a realm not too far removed from the modern piano: better able to capture the intimate shadings of the Fantasiestücke, Op. 12, perhaps. But, even more so than in previous releases, Staier has come up with a really arresting program this time, and done it full justice. What it is is a sort of arch shape, featuring Schumann's first published composition, the Abegg Variations, Op. 1, and the last thing he wrote as he descended into insanity, the Variations in E flat major ("Ghost Variations"), along with two sets of Fantasiestücke (the term came from E.T.A. Hoffmann), one early, one late. The Abegg Variations also fare well on Staier's Erard, and he captures the explosive talent incipient in them as what seems to be a polite variation set morphs into something completely different. But the real find here is Schumann swan song, the Ghost Variations, which were suppressed by Clara Schumann and Brahms and are still rarely performed. Schumann worked on the piece after his suicide attempt, with radically altered handwriting. He declared it finished, but it has a sort of radical simplicity based on the theme that he said had been dictated to him by angels. People haven't known quite what to make of this, but Staier finds profound things in the work, most of all the dissolution of the theme behind arpeggio "noise" in the last variation, perhaps the composer's final reflection on what was happening to him. At the very least, it's worth hearing. Staier is also superb in the later set of Fantasiestücke, Op. 111, which fit well into the general reevaluation of Schumann's late works. Two intensely chromatic short pieces, the last with some very strange octave-displaced leading tones, surround a slow movement whose outer sections are almost completely static explorations of the resonances of a single harmony. This is a fabulous release that may singlehandedly rewrite the Schumann canon.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Abegg-Variationen, Op. 1|
|Fantasiestücke, Op. 12|
|Fantasiestücke, Op. 111|
|Variations in E flat major "Ghost Variations"|