In Step Inside, Cary Chow tackles two of Schumann’s most beloved and challenging works. Piano recitals the world over from neophyte music festival competitors to the world’s magicians of sound (cross-reference below) are drawn to these multi-sectioned, yet structurally unified tests of tone production, technique and talent to successfully lay bare the gems and savour the voyage. Chow’s decision to employ a turn-of-the-century (er, that’s the twentieth century) Bechstein piano throws another ingredient into the mix (thanks to Jurgen Goering’s considerable ministrations, this Grande Dame is largely up to the task, with only the occasional loss of pitch in the extreme top and lower middle-register, which is rather like a girdle that’s been stretched to the max once too often).
Those wise enough to slip this CD into their collection will be rewarded with a truly magnificent rendition of Kreisleriana and a competent if at times puzzling reading of Carnaval. In the opening of the latter (“Préambule”), Chow delves into the score with powerful confidence but also a breathlessness that robs the phrases of their combined effect. At the other end of richly varied voyage, the famous “Marche des Davidsbündler contre les Philistins” begs for one notch quicker tempo and (along with a drier off-beat bass) a way of celebrating rather than pontificating the miraculous journey. Still, along the way there is much to admire: The push and pull required for “Valse noble” couldn’t be better; “Eusebius” is notable for its gentle, simple lines with just the right amount of “hesitato”; in “A.S.C.H. – S.C.H.A.” the “letters” dance with sparklingly abandon; don’t miss the amiable stuttering in the first subject of “Reconnaissance” and the finest legato of the lot in the second.
As satisfying as all of that is, from the first note of Op. 16 Chow oozes with assurance and deftly resolves the numerous balance traps (speed, touch, voicing) with a level of love and consistency that engages the ear and refuses to release it until the oh-so-orchestral, big, broad farewell thirty minutes later. With hands that toss off the cascades of notes with ease (just infrequently weakening the centre of the pulse in favour of frolicking fingers) it’s Chow’s truly wonderful ability to plumb the introspective reflection from the slow movements (memorably, tracks 26 & 28) that more than repays repeated hearings. Together, listener, performer and composer feel the very personal shared experience (which few are able to find from just paper and ink) sink into the depths of despair then, miraculously, find their way back to happiness and joy with the timely appearance of one of the standard repertoire’s most welcome, theme-assured friends. JWR