Romance Op. 21, No. 1
Seven Fantasias Op. 116
Consolations (Pensées Poétiques)
Petrarch Sonnet 12
Widmung Op.25, No.1/Liebeslied
Three Romances Op. 28
Arabeske Op. 18
Carnival Scenes from Vienna Op. 26
Triakontameron No. 11, Old Vienna
Anna Zassimova Piano
For once the CD album cover photo (by Magnus Arrevad) sums up its contents very accurately: Anna Zassimova in black dress storm-tossed in a bleak evening landscape. She carries a hat, the interior of which seems to contain a cyclone all its own.
And that is very much how her exploration of the relationship between Brahms, Liszt and Robert and Clara Schumann comes over – a programme of churning emotions set against the backdrop of turbulent German high Romanticism.
The habit of programming a CD as if it were a concert can be annoying after the initial play-through if, like me, you select a disc from the shelf for a particular work. Zassimova’s programming does have musical logic, though, and the Brahms Fantasias, Liszt Consolations, Schumann Op. 28 Romances and Viennese Carnival Scenes are chunky enough to be satisfying. Finishing the recital with Godovsky’s miniature Viennese waltz to follow the Schumann scenes as an encore is a delightful touch.
It is a pity, though, that she only includes the first of the three of Clara’s Op. 21 Romances from 1853 (the sleeve calls her Wieck-Schumann; an accurate if nodding gesture to current political thinking, joining her maiden and married name in the American manner). Beautiful as they are, I would have foregone happily the isolated Liszt Petrarch Sonnet 123 and the transcription by him – described as Schumann/Liszt Widmung Op.25, No.1/Liebeslied – to fit them in. Actually, there is plenty of room spare on the two CDs to do them all.
This is the first occasion on which I have heard Zassimova play solo (her previous volume – see below May 2021 – was of four hands with Christophe Sirodeau of Dvorak’s Legends) and I warmed to her immediately. She has a clever way of conveying controlled but pent-up passion, as in Einfach, the second of the Schumann Op. 28 Romances. Her touch lingers on the notes so that each is sustained long enough to suggest that there is a complicated emotional current flowing just beneath the surface. It is a trick that fits particularly well with Brahms’ Op. 116 Fantasias – the capriccios and intermezzi written in his last decade when he was looking back at the loves of his life with affectionate detachment tinged with lingering regret. She captures that too in Schuman’s Op. 18 Arabesque, a quality which one normally associates with Chopin.
Zassimova is well worth discovering as a pianist and more recordings from her will be thoroughly welcome.