I just saw and heard the most amazing performance of Schumann's Fantasy for piano by Alexandre Moutouzkine

My single favorite work of music by Robert Schumann is his Fantasie in C for piano, Op. 17. I was introduced to this piece in a course for non-musicians I took first semester of freshman year in college.

I have to confess that in the past two decades since discovering that piece, I never found a perfect performance of it, although Sviatoslav Richter’s came close, and I remember rushing to buy it when it was reissued on CD (back when one had to wait to transition from LPs). But I always felt something was missing.

I just accidentally discovered the performance of a lifetime, captured in video on YouTube. Why did I like this one so much?

YouTube accidental find

Just last week I had a YouTube accidental find, of Robert Hill. I had another find now, while not even searching for Schumann. Somehow my YouTube sidebar popped up a suggestion to check out a performance of Schumann’s Fantasie in C for piano by some random dude named Alexandre Moutouzkine.

The YouTube video appeared to be highly rated, and was recorded live at a piano competition in 2011. I’m a sucker for live performances with actual video, so I checked it out.

Alexandre Moutouzkine

First impressions are important. Well, I was hooked after just twenty seconds, because he was playing it the way I hear it in my mind! The lyrical flow and phrasing and drama got me hooked. Not square, but freely emotional, yet under control. My experience was also much enhanced by seeing him in action, as he moved his body completely in sync with the music, as though his entire being was part of the instrument. I’m not a fan of musicians who move a lot but don’t actually add to the musical expression, but it seemed like this guy was the real deal.

Before a minute was up, I was already totally entranced by his fluidity of tempo and dynamic contrast. He was maxing out on emotional expression in just the way that I’ve always wanted to hear and see this piece performed. Schumann wrote this in a dark period of life when it was not clear he would ever get to marry Clara Wieck (which he eventually did).

I’ll stop with the blow-by-blow, but just say that I was sitting on the edge of my seat at home for half an hour while he performed the entirety of this piece. I was not disappointed. It was like the spirit of Schumann had entered him and he was showing how Schumann felt. The final movement, the slow movement, was particularly lovely.

A bit of nitpicking: of course there were some botched notes, but it would be stupid to focus on that; more seriously, the second movement (fiendishly difficult to play, admittedly) was not as solid as it could have been. But I loved the first and third movements.

Video vs. just audio?

My experience does leave me with some questions. Is it possible that I am actually deceived about the quality of interpretation because there was video and I saw the performer up close? What if there were video of Richter available? Would it change my mind about him either positively or negatively? Some naysayers would argue we should do some kind of blind comparison. But I don’t think that. Because I perform music now as an amateur, and prefer attending live performances of music, I understand now (as I did not when I merely collected audio recordings and listened) that the “music” does not just exist on paper or as audio, but as the full performance context, and seeing video helps a lot in filling in that context.

This issue has come up this year in the news, and I may write more about it in the future.

Some naysayers in the YouTube comments decry the physical emoting by Alexandre Moutouzkine, but I do not.

I am ready to admit that at least part of what was missing for me in listening to Sviatoslav Richter was that I did not see him, but only heard him.

Listen for yourself

Here’s the video.

More about Alexandre Moutouzkine

Only after watching the video did I do a Web search on this young guy. He’s 34 now and here’s a Wikipedia page about him. Definitely someone to keep an eye on.

Performances by Sviatoslav Richter

If you want to compare (but only audio, no video), here is Sviatoslav’s classic 1961 studio recording (the one I’ve treasured for decades):

There’s also a 1959 Prague live recording, which I was not aware of till looking Richter up on YouTube just now; it does have more of a sense of freedom than the studio recording:

Video footage of Richter in action

There is video footage of Richter in action in other music. I particularly like this video of Richter playing Brahms’ intermezzo in E minor, Op. 116, No. 5. You can see Richter rocking rhythmically to the music as he plays it:


I was very pleased to have discovered Alexandre Moutouzkine’s live performance of Schumann’s Fantasie in C for piano. Time will tell whether I will always consider it as amazing as I do now, but it really touched my heart.

Do you consider it important to experience music live and/or visually? Or do you think that is just a distraction and the best way to experience music is privately through pure audio?

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