Swapping one S-composer, Sibelius, for another, Schumann, while staying with Quartz, Joseph Tong opens with a nicely easeful Arabeske, its ABACA design (to which I add a D) well-contrasted if a little stiff in B, although later introspection here is well brought out, and C is vividly characterised, with D as a gentle envoi. From there to a magnificent C-major Fantasy, poised and heroic from the off, passions and reflections melded as-one into a volatile and climactic first movement in which emotions are stirred and tender sentiments are uncovered. Tong then makes an impressive job of the finger-twisting second movement, his fluent technique ensuring impetus and, where necessary, lovely lyricism and darting figuration; whereas the slow Finale (with allusions to the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata) is very sensitive, a moonlit reverie, the composer hand-in-hand with his beloved Clara, the breeze gentle, the meeting place idyllic, love blossoming, pulses quickening during the concluding measures. Good to hear this music given without exaggeration while being fully conversant with its eloquent feelings.
What might be termed the second half of the disc begins with a quixotic account of Papillons (“floats like a...”, twelve seamless miniatures), dreams and assertiveness captured in song and dance (the heartfelt VII might be guessed as being by Tchaikovsky). Tong appreciates the music’s poetry, frothing-tankard aspects and witticisms. Finally, Faschingsschwank, which is well-judged for the most part, save Tong can be a little ‘safe’ (literal) in places (the Finale is too deliberate in tempo), and also earthbound – the fourth-movement ‘Intermezzo’ fails to ignite – yet the first movement’s easygoing swing and diversions are engaging. Tong’s Steinway is very well recorded.