Mantas Completes Schumann’s Fourth Sonata

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SCHUMANN: Kinderszenen. Waldszenen. SCHUMANN-MANTAS: Piano Sonata No. 4. MANTAS: Poppy Fields / Santiago Mantas, pn / Claudio Records CR6033-2

Although this CD presents pianist Santiago Mantas’ performances of Kinderszenen and Waldszenen, as well as his own short piece Poppy Fields, the real highlight of the program is his own reconstruction of Schumann’s Piano Sonata No. 4.

My readers know that I normally have reservations about other musicians completing the unfinished work of older composers. My suspicion was initially fueled, a half-century ago, by my first hearing of Puccini’s Turandot (which, it turns out, he had plenty of time to finish) with the crappy ending written by Franco Alfano, and was more recently squelched by the even more horrible “completion” of Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony. The completed third movement of Schubert’s Eighth Symphony (“Unfinished”) is actually very good, but the various attempts at a fourth movement have ranged from inappropriate (using one of his own overtures, for example) to awful. Yet there are Robert Orledge’s superb recraftings of Debussy’s Edgar Allan Poe operas, Larry Austin’s excellent completion of Charles Ives’ “Universe” Symphony, and of course the various completions of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony (which he actually wrote most of in piano reduction, just not getting around to orchestrating).

The booklet accompanying this CD has, on page seven, a commendation of Mantas’ work by Denis McCaldin, Emeritus Professor of Music for Lancaster University in the U.K. To quote professor McCaldin, “The work undertaken by Santiago Mantas to create plausible completions of the first and last movements of this Sonata is of the highest quality. The use of the existing sketches as source material is both sensitive and respectful. In both cases, the resulting elaborations reveal strong musicianship and a deep understanding of Schumann’s compositional style, providing us with credible completions of the movements concerned.” Earlier in the booklet are detailed explanations of how Mantas put the music together. Schumann left us 66 bars of the first movement and 166 bars of the fourth and last. In the second and third movements, Mantas used material written by Schumann in 1836 and originally intended for his sonata titled “Concert Sans Orchestra.” This is followed in turn by a detailed description of the number of bars inserted by Mantas, how much is by him and which parts were derived from Schumann himself.

Regarding his performances of the first two suites, they are very fine and sensitive performances if not quite on the high level of Clara Haskil in the first or the obscure but superb Vladimir Nielsen in the second. Mantas lovingly caresses the famous “Traumerai,” and does not ignore detail in the other pieces of the former, thus I was prepared for how he might approach the sonata.

The proof of any reconstruction is not in how cleverly the material has been reworked, but whether or not the finished product works as a piece of art. Anyone can stick arms on the Venus di Milo, but not all arms are going to look right on it. My ears tell me that the music is Schumann-esque in the sense that it has that element of surprise and unpredictability that characterizes most of his scores. Both the themes and their development have the ring of authenticity about them, at least in the first movement. The second and third movements, pure Schumann, do indeed seem to fit the sonata, and I really enjoyed the way Mantas plays them.

The long (almost 12-minute) last movement was probably the biggest challenge for Mantas, despite having 166 bars of authentic music to work with. Mantas takes the music into deep crevices of feeling, creating a tapestry of sound that envelops the listener like a blanket.

Mantas’ own Poppy Fields is a quiet piece, played in almost isolated single notes that fall on the ear like raindrops. I liked it but questioned its place in this specific album.

Overall, however, a notable achievement, particularly for the sonata.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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