Juana Zayas

Schumann: Carnaval, Op. 9; Arabesque, Op. 18; Toccata, Op. 7; Phantasiestücke, Op. 12

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Juana Zayas is a musician of high standards who puts the music before her own talents, which partially explains why she isn't more widely known. For this album she chose several of Schumann's most popular piano works, which are frequently exploited as examples of quintessential Romantic zeal or the performer's technical skills. The four works cover the entire period of Schumann's life when he was courting Clara Wieck, and the personal turbulence of that time is often used as an interpretive crutch. Zayas instead grounds them in Schumann's intellect and his skillful writing. For each movement of Carnaval and the Phantasiestücke, she keeps in mind the titles and Schumann's directions. But rather than a dry, academic recitation, Carnaval becomes a collection of playful, even humorous, carefree dances, each with its own character, in keeping with the spirit of the pre-Lenten season. The group is still recognizably united by the four-note motifs found throughout the set, but it is more thoroughly unified by Zayas' energy and her understanding and enjoyment of the music. The Phantasiestücke are similarly treated, and show more of Zayas' beautiful shaping. She stays the course through the emotional ups and downs, giving a sense of the moodiness without the extremes of pounding fortes, too shy pianissimos, and temperamental rubato. The Arabesque and Toccata are where she really shows that her talent is equal to that of the big name pianists. She alters voicing or other aspects of the music when passages are repeated in the Arabesque, revealing new depths to it. In the tricky Toccata, she takes it beyond a technical showpiece by finding and smoothly bringing out melodies, which other pianists bury in the overall texture as if the piece was just an exercise. Zayas' doesn't just play these Schumann works, she also fully appreciates them for what they are, and so should her listeners.

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