Eric Himy is one of those little-known pianists whose performances are gems, infrequently found, and then only on small record labels. Homage to Schumann is his third disc for Centaur. His similarly titled second disc for the label, Homage to Mozart, contains music by and inspired by Mozart, but this one is all music by Schumann. Himy chose the two large works Carnaval, Op. 9, and the Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13, as centerpieces, but the Arabesque, Op. 18, which is first, sets the stage for the rest.
His playing is very warm, with a rounded tone that is always present whether he's playing frenetically fast (and extremely proficiently), as in the Papillons movement of Carnaval, or soothingly, as in the coda of the Arabesque. It's also the way he contrasts loud and soft, fast and slow, that demands attention. The differences are great enough to give real dimension to the music, but so naturally done that the flow of the music is never disrupted in any way. Although some may find his occasional use of rubato a little indulgent, his touch, tone, and phrasing all serve to draw the listener along through these masterpieces by Schumann […].
This varied Homage to Mozart represents a noteworthy effort on the part of an independent pianist; Eric Himy carves out a unique program, based partly on his own research, and it makes for an unusual tour through the hall of meanings Mozart has held for musicians at various periods in history. A transcribed aria from an early and unknown Salieri opera (examined in manuscript by the artist) serves as a curtain raiser; it's a remarkably beautiful melody easily if mistakenly identifiable as music by Gluck.
After a smooth performance of the Mozart Piano Sonata in B flat major, K. 333 (with a cadenza by Wanda Landowska at the end), Himy plunges into two contemporary works, the first of which he commissioned. The Hommage à Mozart by Spanish composer Elisenda Fábregas is an impressionist work with a very subtle range of allusion to Mozartian models — the references range from full-blown themes to mere intervallic evocations, with the idea of laughter and the music of the unbalanced Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöteserving as an unusual focus.
The [Ramette’s] Variations on the Second Movement of the Mozart Sonata No. 16 in C major K. 545, by contrast, are neo-Classic in the extreme, a sober set of variations on this familiar music that stays between early nineteenth century lines yet never seems derivative or dull. The little melody's transformation into a fugue in the fifth variation is especially artful and unexpected.
Another set of variations follows, this one transcribed by pianist Wilhelm Kempff from the flute-and-keyboard Pastorale Variée K.209b. Turkish pianist Idil Biret has also played this transcription, but it's far from being a common presence on concert programs. The album offers an experience that is entirely fresh […].