Make no mistake,
Clara was her own woman; much like Fanny Mendelssohn or Alma
Mahler. In all three cases their compositions have long been
lost in the shadows cast by those of their husbands or brother.
Clara’s case has been further complicated due to her reputation
as a virtuoso pianist and that endures to this day. Happily
in recent years record companies have realized the potential
in this repertoire, even though live performances continue to
be comparatively rare.
Of the three ladies
I mentioned Clara is the one with the widest compositional grasp.
Along with Fanny and Alma, there was a lively concern with lieder
(27 songs in total; versions on cpo and Arte Nova labels), as
well as a clutch of solo piano (also on cpo) and chamber works.
The concerto is Clara’s only existing orchestral work.
The concerto encompasses
“enthusiasm, restraint, delicacy, turmoil – the whole world
characteristic of the time and place where it was born”, to
quote pianist Dana Protopopescu, who has recorded the work with
the Romanian National Radio Orchestra under Horia Andreescu
for Electrecord – unfortunately a company and artists are too
little known, and so far without UK distribution, taking this
interesting version out of the running as a rival.
The opening Allegro
maestoso ushers in the soloist with passages of flourish, demonstrating
the need for a highly accomplished soloist. One can imagine
Clara setting herself up a challenge, but also accommodating
strengths in her own technique and style. Francesco Nicolosi
rises to the task with clarity and command of the part, matched
by the Alma Mahler Sinfonietta under Stefania Rinaldi. The inner
Romanze contains the heart of the piece, with contrasting inward-looking
mood. The marking is Allegro non troppo con grazia, and
it is the last part that seems key here, and is caught superbly
in the recording.
As with Chopin –
that other great pianist-composer of the time – there is perhaps
the tendency to expect the orchestration to be an afterthought;
merely an unimaginative context to the pianistic fireworks being
unleashed. This view could not be further from the truth as
the finale - indeed the whole work - confirms. There is something
akin to Chopin’s concerti here, in the opening passages particularly.
The Piano Trio partners
Nicolosi with Rodolfo Bonucci and Andrea Noferini, who together
make an elegant fist of the piece. There are compositional problems
with the piece, principally in the last movement, which is not
as thematically strong as the rest. It is emphatically fugal
in character. The three instruments blend well, and the playing
is unforced – capturing the mood of a nineteenth century drawing
room. The piano takes a more equal role with violin and cello
in a Brahmsian vein. Like the concerto, this is a work that
grows on you with repeated hearings.
is rather short measure these days, but these are works of quality,
ably performed with feeling and atmosphere, and as ever at Naxos’s
enticing price of five pounds. Definitely worth immediate investigation.
See also Review
by Colin Clarke April Recording of the Month