09/10/2017 Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

REVIEW: Solo piano album 'Ghosts' from Caroline Oltmanns



Caroline Oltmanns (piano)

Solo works by Schumann, Brahms, Chopin & Wilding

Review by Donald Hunt

5 stars



We find ourselves in October, which seems like a perfect time to listen to pianist Caroline Oltmanns’ new album appropriately titled Ghosts. Oltmanns (an International Steinway Artist) is fast becoming a star in the piano world, which is heavily evident in her refined, crystalline playing and charismatic persona. Ghosts, her sixth solo album on the Filia Mundi label, is comprised of particularly misty works by Schumann, Chopin, Brahms, and James Wilding.


Known for its emotional and technical bravura, Schumann’s Carnaval is a beast for any pianist game enough to tackle it. Throughout the twenty-two sections, you do get a sense of musical freak show taking place. Each section is a brief study of a masked reveler at a carnival, a last go-round before the sacrificial Lent period takes hold. Oltmanns takes no prisoners in her approach, taking a work that Chopin himself shied away from into a tour de force performance.


Continuing the theme of Ghosts is Schumann’s Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations), which just so happens to be his final piano work. As I listened, I wonder if Schumann had any unfinished business, being that he battled depression for much of his life. Since these movements are reminiscent of funeral music, Oltmanns sensitively phrases with intense reflection.


Sandwiched between the romantic piano works are three newly commissioned pieces by South African composer James Wilding. These brief pieces serve as interludes, moving the album forward while providing tormented, slightly claustrophobic musical statements on their own merit.


Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu doesn’t musically fit the spooky theme of the album like the other works, but the storyline behind it certainly does. This work was published posthumously against Chopin’s discreet wishes, which surely made his ghost fly about in rage (this unfortunate tradition continues on today with released music unapproved from the late Michael Jackson and Prince).


Chopin’s ghost is then carried on in the final work of the album: Brahms’ uncharacteristically virtuosic Variations on a Theme of Paganini. This is a work that Clara Schumann curiously called the ‘Witch Variations’ for its technical obstacles. Chopin’s Caprice in A Minor (originally written as a monster etude for elite violinists to take on) is at the center of these variations with Oltmanns painting each one with a vivid sense of color, lyricism, and style.


Oltmanns’ incredible skill as a consummate musician is evident in Ghosts. This concept album is a rare work from a classical artist that uses this timeless music to convey a hauntingly, insightful narrative. 


Main image: © Dario Acosta



Back to News

09/10/2017 Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

Pianist magazine announces new partnership with Yamaha featuring acclaimed pianist Noriko Ogawa

Six stunning piano lesson videos are to be released alongside the next six issues of Pianist. ...

Composer Kaada masterfully stuns with brand new album – Closing Statements

Kaada's new release is breathtakingly raw; an album he claims to be 'one of the most enjoyable records to ...

60 vital tips for all pianists

60 short, effective pieces of advice for players of any age and level ...

Warner Classics and Askonas Holt partner to welcome Eric Lu to their respective rosters

The winner of the 2018 Leeds International Piano Competition to release the first single from his debut album ...

Other News

American pianist Eric Lu wins The Leeds International Piano Competition

The American pianist took home the prize at Saturday's night's competition final, held at Leeds Town Hall. ...

Lie-down and Listen: A unique classical music concert designed to benefit well-being launching this month

Pianist Christina McMaster is launching a lying down concert on September 21 in London. ...

Q&A with Serbian pianist Aleksandar Madzar

The Serbian pianist talked to us about his key advice for young pianists, and mentioned his exciting upcoming ...

Pianist James Willshire delights York crowd with mesmerising performance of 'Ten New Debussys'

The British pianist lit up York Unitarian Chapel, much to the delight of the expectant crowd. ...