London-based Japanese pianist Hiro Takenouchi has a fascination for lesser-known and even unknown repertoire, and this is very much reflected in his latest disc, pairing of piano music by William Sterndale Bennett with Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes.
The two composers met and became friends soon after Sterndale Bennett arrived in Leipzig, a friendship which lasted until Schumann’s death in 1856. Schumann championed Sterndale Bennett’s music and the young Englishman repaid this generosity by dedicating his Fantasia Op 16 to Robert Schumann.
The uninitiated could be forgiven for mistaking Sterndale Bennett for Schumann. His Piano Sonata in F minor, Op 13 is romantically expansive, virtuosic, lyrical and emotionally intense, with a narrative thread which Takenouchi carries confidently through the entire work with only occasional moments of repose. It recalls Schumann’s Piano Concerto in its thematic unity and symphonic scope, and Takenouchi handles this with bravura ease and a warm, refined sound.
The Symphonic Etudes (1834), which Schumann dedicated to Sterndale Bennett, are similarly muscular, the opening theme stated with clear intent and authority. The movements which follow are dramatically paced, richly coloured and constantly alert to Schumann’s quirks and emotional volte-faces, from the extrovert to the intimate, and Takenouchi succeeds in managing the piano sound perfectly to achieve this (the recording was made at St John the Evangelist in Oxford which I understand has a superb Steinway D).
The two works and their composers complement one another wonderfully.