This recording is the first to introduce Schumann's Op. 11 and Op. 14 Sonatas to my ears. While I lack the respectable knowledge of Arrau's, Horowitz's, or Pollini's renditions, I have no doubt Bernd Glemser pours his soul and technical arsenal into these works. On the whole, I found both Sonatas attractive: lovely melodies and some wild emotional climates are abundant. Unfortunately, some of the movements seemed mediocre and left me wanting more. The first Sonata's Aria movement and the third Sonata's Scherzo, for instance, are not the most substantial things, and I expected more from Schumann's large-scale pieces.
However, and that's a big however, I do not doubt the magnificence of both Sonatas; they each have two profound movements which bolster their musical appeal. In the first Sonata in F sharp minor can be found one of the most pensive and beautiful openings of Schumann's piano works. Although the movement seems somewhat incoherent, what with the sudden cadence after the "Un poco adagio" idea and the new theme guided by an "Allegro vivace" tempo, the movement presents marvelous, agreeable music in sonata form. I had a little trouble in trying to like the Aria movement, a somewhat mellow and aimless miniature. Astonishingly, the most memorable movement is the Scherzo. Schumann has written a great Scherzo theme and a charming Chopinesque trio section that, uncharacteristically, nestle together quite nicely instead of sounding fragmented as we might expect from the piano miniature master. The Finale is a success, as well, demonstrating originality and beguiling harmonies. Consider the implementation of a melodic line, the Rondo theme, in the bass register; notice the fantastic representations of Schumann's Eusebius and Florestan engaging in a musical duel; this Finale is striking proof of Schumann's ingenious piano-writing.
There are prodigious and emotional ideas in the Op. 14 'Concerto without Orchestra' Sonata. The last two movements attain a splendid depth of expression. But, in my opinion, some moments drag on, evaporate too soon, or, as in the Scherzo movement, display nothing special. In the Allegro, we find two strong, noble themes; it's only in the development that things get tiresome. Fortunately, Glemser's fiery performance, especially in the recapitulation and coda, make up for it. As I mentioned earlier, the Scherzo movement of this Sonata seems rather vapid and mediocre. At least in the third movement, a set of four variations on a Clara Schumann theme, the music explores richer material. Indeed, the piece is a dreamy adventure with many intriguing variances on Clara's Andantino theme. Making a spectacular conclusion to this irregular work, the bustling Presstissimo possibile is probably the most virtuosic movement of all. Glemser's unlimited steam and consciousness of musical thought helps bring out the best moments here.
Bottom line: 4 stars may seem unfair to these neglected Sonatas. I realize I might upset some Schumann fans who believe these two works are worthy of no less than five stars. I just felt that there were inconsistencies in quality, an absence of true uniqueness, and a couple mediocre movements in these works. Nonetheless, Bernd Glemser has proven that he is a real contender as a Schumannite, adding intensity and interpretative clairvoyance to Schumann's music.