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CD Review

Robert Schumann

Piano Music

  • Kreisleriana, Op. 16
  • Abegg Variations, Op. 1
  • Three Romances, Op. 28
Volker Banfield, piano
CPO 999598-2 DDD 58:38
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Volker Banfield is a pianist who is getting some long overdue recognition in this country of late, owing mainly to cpo's releases of his Schumann series, the Busoni Piano Concerto, and the two concertos of Hermann Goetz. From reading the biographical information provided in the CPO album booklet and from looking at his photograph on the back cover, German-born and now – based Banfield appears to be in his mid-fifties. If one categorizes playing by temperament, his isn't youthful or impetuous in any way, but rather divulges the wisdom of great experience. Yet, his technique shows no signs of age, demonstrating ample digital ability, speed and accuracy. On the whole, he has all the wares necessary to play just about anything he wants.

Here, he goes up against Brendel, Horowitz, and Ashkenazy, favorites of mine in Kreisleriana. While Banfield certainly turns in a generally fine performance, his more brusque treatment of some of the music doesn't always convince. The Fantasie V (Sehr lebhaft), for example, sounds slightly insensitive. Yes, he catches the humor, all right, but he tilts everything toward highlighting that element, missing Schumann's often delicate ironies. Not that Banfield completely misses the boat here, it's just that he tends to see things in a one-sided way. If he has a noticeable fault in execution, it is his often unvarying dynamics in louder sections. One would also wish for a little less pedal at these times, as well. Still, this is, in the end, an above average Kreisleriana, especially effective in the more lyrical music.

His Abegg Variations sparkle in generally brisk tempos. Here Banfield catches the youthful exuberance of the pieces, overall turning in a quite convincing reading. His Three Romances may be the most compelling performance on the disc, however. He delivers the last one, marked sehr markiert, with a staccato-laced boldness at the outset that colors the music with just the right shade of sassiness. Thereafter, he remains alert to Schumann's deft humor and emotional swings.

As usual CPO offers copious and enlightening notes on the music and on the artist. The sound is excellent, too. While this wouldn't be a first choice in the Kreisleriana, the disc overall offers some fine Schumann performances by a talented pianist who has ideas. You'll be hearing more from Banfield.

Copyright © 2000, Robert Cummings