"Carnaval" and "Kreisleriana" are both major works for solo piano by the composer Robert Schumann and underline the composer's affinity for the instrument and its capabilities. With his album "Zirkus" pianist Cary Chow likewise demonstrates an obvious affinity for Schumann's piano music with a superb interpretation of these two works. In common with a number of other composers, Schumann liked to indulge in a spot of word-play and underlying messages in his musical compositions. "Carnaval" (subtitled "Little Scenes on Four Notes") consists of a suite of 22 fairly short pieces whose unifying idea is the use of the letters A, S, C, H as notes in the German naming convention, where "S" represents E-flat and "H" represents B-natural. The reason for using these letters is that Schumann's love interest at the time came from the town of Asch and the composer had noticed that these notes were also the only musical letters appearing in his own surname, and this fact is spelled out in the title of track 10. Whatever his reasons, the consistent reference to these notes provides a musical hook which the ear can readily perceive even though its origin may not be immediately obvious.
As with any suite "Carnaval" is full of contrasting moods and Schumann's love inspired him to depict many facets of his character, displaying much invention in the process. Although the individual pieces are quite short they are certainly not a trivial exercise for the piano student, and Cary Chow displays superb control and artistry in flitting effortlessly between the different moods. His virtuosity continues and intensifies with "Kreisleriana", if anything is an even more personal work from Schumann composed just a few years later than "Carnaval". "Kreisleriana" can also be described as a suite, consisting this time of 8 movements though each longer in duation. "Johannes Kreisler" is the name of a fictional character created by the author Ernst Hoffman as an extension of his own personality. Robert Schumann identified strongly with the character and with the artistic creativity which brought him into existence, and he brought this out in the musical portrait called "Kreisleriana". Each movement consists of contrasting sections which represent the two sides of the character's nature - part fictional and yet brought to life. Throughout this intense work, Chow's technique is flawless and loses the listener in this strange world of dual personalities.
Chow taught at the University of Victoria until 2006, and now coaches the Young Artist Experience at the University of British Columbia. He performs regularly in his native Canada and gives recitals and performs concerti in major cities across the world. The album's title "Zirkus" is the German for "Circus" and perhaps serves to remind us of Schumann's musical traditions. Zirkus the album can be found at Amazon.com, or check out Cary Chow's website for further information about the album and other online stores where it can be found.