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Bach, Haydn & Schumann's Carnaval


J.S BACH : Prelude in G major BWV 902 ; English Suite No. 2 in A minor, BWV 807
HAYDN : Piano Sonata No. 62 in E flat major, Hob.XVI:52
SCHUMANN : Carnaval Op. 9




BBC Legends - BBCL42012

The unquestionable highlight of this disc is an utterly miraculous performance of the Schumann, played with the utmost naturalness, improvisatory freedom, enchantment and love. The catalogue is full of fine Carnavals (Uchida is generally reckoned the benchmark of modern accounts, beautifully detailed without sentimentalism); this surpasses them all in its sense of unforced, delighted magic. By chance, the last BBC Legends disc I had for review included a Carnaval, Annie Fischer's; that is, by comparison, earthbound and one-paced (though Fischer's Beethoven is in turn masterly.).

Carnaval is, evidently, something of a ‘song-cycle without words.' As a collection of pretty miniatures, it loses cohesion and stature, as a marmoreal tone-poem (which is the Fischer approach), it can seem thematically trite.

Myra Hess plays it with a trompe d'oeil , a sleight of hand, concealing any flaws of composition and staging each scene perfectly, so that both unity and diversity are perfectly judged. The freshness of the interpretation is simply astonishing.

The rest of this disc (all three parts date from different years) is admirable but less extraordinary. The Haydn, still crisp and stylistically satisfying, turns out to be Hess' very last recording or performance. It is the more poignant for the knowledge that Hess had already had a stroke. The Bach is redoubtable, but if one had not been told it was Hess, one would struggle to find a specialness in it.

But for Carnaval alone, this would be a bargain at twice the price.

Ying Chang