The first edition of Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques was published in 1837. The work consists of a theme “by an amateur” (Baron von Fricken) and 12 movements. The final movement, a variation on a theme by Marchner, was dedicated to Schumann’s friend, English composer and pianist William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875). Both Schumann and Mendelssohn spoke glowingly of the young man’s gifts; however, on his return from Leipzig, Bennett forsook composition for conducting, teaching and administration at the Royal College of Music. (One of his students was Arthur Sullivan.)
The Piano Sonata is one of Bennett’s strong early works. It is Mozartean in its restraint, melodiousness and structure, although harmonically it most resembles Mendelssohn. The work is certainly promising, even though that initial promise was never fulfilled. London-based Japanese pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi gives a robust performance, bringing the music out of its shell, and finding plenty of sturm und drang.
Schumann’s Etudes are more demanding and dynamic. Takenouchi is again robust, sometimes over-emphasising accompanying figures. He is at his best in faster movements such as the sprightly Scherzando (Study No 5), and the final Allegro brilliante (No 12) – but while it is bracing to hear this music attacked so fearlessly, Takenouchi lacks Pogolerich’s mercurial individuality and Brendel’s finesse.