Schumann is a mainstay of many pianists' repertoire, but the most memorable interpreters find a personal connection between his temperament and theirs. One thinks of Horowitz and Richter especially, two restless imaginations capable of near violence at the keyboard, mercurial flights of fancy, and enormous will power. They were pianists who seemed larger than the piano, one might say. Anderszewski has much the same musical temperament, as he showed early on, not with Schumann but with the Diabelli Variations -- he turned in a daringly personal reading that confronted the work's thorny eccentricity and mysterious emotional twists and turns. Schumann's idiom takes off from that side of Beethoven, releasing the piano into a range of emotional freedom unheard of before and probably since.
One sign of Anderszewski's penetration into Schumann's shadowy recesses is his choice of works here. He has skipped over the composer's popular favorites (Fantasy in C, Carnaval, Kinderszenen), the masterpieces loved by aficionados (Davidsbundlertanze, Kreisleriana), and even Richter's fairly obscure favorites (Bunte Blatter, Noveletten), as if these aren't peculiar enough to suit him. Because of his fitful mental illness but more because of his own divided temperament, Schumann opens some avenues of piano writing that feel unhinged or so private that no one outside the composer can relate to them. But, then, the same might be said of the Diabelli Var., of course, which may be why Anderszewski chose them to start his Beethoven career. There seems to be a pattern.
This is all a prelude to saying that this new CD is a tough listen. Even the most familiar work, Humoreske, is played with aching sensitivity, often slowly. All three works exhibit the difficult side of Schuman, expressing what is most contradictory, wayward, and inexplicable. Because of Anderszewski's obvious power and command, which is fully up to Richter's standards, critics have bowed down with praise -- how could you not? But even for an experienced listener, one work at a sitting is enough. If you want to follow a superbly imaginative pianist as he tries to unravel one of the most tortured seminal minds of musical Romanticism, here is an ideal opportunity, but for simple pleasures, this isn't a good choice.