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In the first of a new series of Schumann recordings for Chandos, Imogen Cooper has produced quite a gem. The repertoire is beautifully chosen: the Fantasiestücke (heard too rarely these days, goodness knows why) are offset by the rich textures of Brahms’s Theme and Variations in D minor and, to close, Kreisleriana, inherently even more fantastical than the Fantasiestücke.

Cooper’s Fantasiestücke are less impetuous than some others, but this has advantages. With plenty of supple ebb and flow – flexible but never contrived or exaggerated – there’s enough room to breathe and to take in the detail. Hidden voices shine up through the textures of Des Abends and the central section of In der Nacht slows somewhat, allowing the cantilena to come through as a love duet to relish. The close of Ende vom Lied has a true sense of valediction.

The intimate mood continues in the Brahms Theme and Variations, but the sound changes subtly, as is entirely fitting for the composer: his less skittish imagination calls for a deepening of tone.

But it’s Kreisleriana that is the CD’s crowning glory. Cooper has a sterling instinct for Schumann’s intensely wrought counterpoint: in her hands this dark, whirlwind cycle, just a step away from the ETA Hoffmann writings after which it is named, is ideally filled with voices that crisscross and intertwine, along with ghostly, inward moments of intense vulnerability. In the end she leaves us marvelling at the sheer imaginative range of Schumann’s music – which is just as it should be.

JESSICA DUCHEN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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