On 'Fantasies,' Mozart and Schumann Shimmer In The Shadows

Mar 22, 2017
Originally published on March 21, 2017 8:50 pm

Piotr Anderszewski might be one of the most revered pianists of his generation, but he's also one of the most impulsive.

In 1990, at age 21, the young Pole entered the prestigious Leeds International Piano Competition. He was nearly finished with his semi-final performance when he quit playing — just walked off the stage. He felt he wasn't good enough to continue. It was a gutsy move that actually helped launch his career.

These days, Anderszewski is still taking chances — taking time off to direct a wistful documentary about his hometown of Warsaw (watch an excerpt below), and releasing Fantasies, a new album filled with arresting music, beginning with Mozart.

In Anderszewski's searching performance, Mozart's Fantasy in C minor slides from shadowy, agitated moods to delicate, bittersweet spaces of diffused light.

Mozart, Anderszewski says, seemed to have the entire piece in his head, and then effortlessly wrote it down without a hitch. It didn't work quite that way for Robert Schumann, the other composer on this album. Anderszewski is drawn to both composers because they seemed to have a short, direct line from brainstorm to finished masterpiece.

Schumann could write as quickly as Mozart, but from a more vulnerable heart. In his Fantasie, Op. 17, Anderszewski isn't afraid to let the music struggle, laying Schumann's heart right out on the sleeve in huffing, puffing, syncopated beats.

The pianist closes the album with music from the other side of Schumann's career — at the very end, when the composer's mind had started to crumble. Hardly anyone plays Schumann's Ghost Variations, but Anderszewski's detail to light and color makes a strong case for this undervalued music. The tender, gently swaying theme came to Schumann in the middle of the night.

Five variations on that theme follow, including an agitated one where Anderszewski lets the tune smolder in the bass while sparks fly above. It closes with a kind of musical enigma as the theme gets swept up in a whirlwind of notes.

I guess we're lucky Anderszewski makes albums at all. He's prone to sabbaticals, and he's fussy. He doesn't like to perform with orchestras, doesn't like solo recitals. And he complains about recording studios. Maybe it's tongue-in-cheek — and I certainly hope so — but he's even said that the ultimate temptation is to lie down and wait for the beat of his heart to stop.

Meanwhile, we'll look for more from this gifted, restless artist, who's willing to rethink just about everything.

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(SOUNDBITE OF PIOTR ANDERSZEWSKI PERFORMANCE OF MOZART'S "FANTASIA IN C MINOR")

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This is Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski on his new album "Fantasies." It features music by Mozart and Schumann.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIOTR ANDERSZEWSKI PERFORMANCE OF MOZART'S "FANTASIA IN C MINOR")

CORNISH: Anderszewski is one of the most revered pianists of his generation. NPR's Tom Huizenga says he's also one of the most impulsive.

TOM HUIZENGA, BYLINE: In 1990, at age 21, Anderszewski entered the prestigious Leeds International Piano Competition. He was nearly finished with his semifinal performance when he quit playing, just walked off the stage. He felt he wasn't good enough. It was a gutsy move that actually helped launch his career. These days, Anderszewski is still taking chances, taking time off to direct a documentary and releasing an album filled with arresting music, beginning with Mozart.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIOTR ANDERSZEWSKI PERFORMANCE OF MOZART'S "FANTASIA IN C MINOR")

HUIZENGA: This is Mozart's "Fantasy in C Minor." Anderszewski's searching performance slides from shadowy, agitated moods to delicate, bittersweet spaces of diffused light.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIOTR ANDERSZEWSKI PERFORMANCE OF MOZART'S "FANTASIA IN C MINOR")

HUIZENGA: Anderszewski says Mozart seemed to have the entire piece in his head and then effortlessly wrote it down without a hitch. But it didn't work quite that way for Robert Schumann, the other composer on this album. Anderszewski is drawn to Mozart and Schumann because they both seem to have a short, direct line from brainstorm to finished masterpiece.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIOTR ANDERSZEWSKI PERFORMANCE OF SCHUMANN'S "FANTASIE IN C MAJOR")

HUIZENGA: Schumann could write as quickly as Mozart but from a more vulnerable heart. In the "Fantasy Opus 17," Anderszewski isn't afraid to let the music struggle, laying Schumann's heart right out on the sleeve in huffing, puffing, syncopated beats.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIOTR ANDERSZEWSKI PERFORMANCE OF SCHUMANN'S "FANTASIE IN C MAJOR")

HUIZENGA: Anderszewski closes the album with music from the other side of Schumann's career, at the very end when the composer's mind had started to crumble. Hardly anyone plays Schumann's "Ghost Variations," but Anderszewski's detail to light and color makes a strong case for this under-valued music. The tender, gently swaying theme came to Schumann in the middle of the night.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIOTR ANDERSZEWSKI PERFORMANCE OF SCHUMANN'S "THEME AND VARIATIONS")

HUIZENGA: Schumann follows that theme with five variations, ending with a kind of musical enigma where the theme gets swept up in a whirlwind of notes.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIOTR ANDERSZEWSKI PERFORMANCE OF SCHUMANN'S "THEME AND VARIATIONS")

HUIZENGA: I guess we're lucky Anderszewski makes albums at all. He's prone to sabbaticals, and he's fussy. He doesn't like to perform with orchestras, doesn't like solo recitals, and he complains about recording studios. Maybe it's tongue in cheek, and I hope so, but he's even said that the ultimate temptation is to lie down and wait for the beat of his heart to stop. Meanwhile, we'll look for more from this gifted, restless artist who's willing to rethink just about everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIOTR ANDERSZEWSKI PERFORMANCE OF MOZART'S "PIANO SONATA NO. 14")

CORNISH: NPR music's Tom Huizenga reviewed Piotr Anderszewski's latest album, "Fantasies."

(SOUNDBITE OF PIOTR ANDERSZEWSKI PERFORMANCE OF MOZART'S "PIANO SONATA NO. 14") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.