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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
1. Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 (1846) [33:30]
2. Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129 (1850) [25:29]
3. Konzertstück in F major for Four Horns and Orchestra, Op. 86 (1849) [18:49]
4. Introduction and Allegro appassionato, Op. 92 (1849) [16:39]
5. Concert Allegro with Introduction in D minor, Op. 134 (1853) [15:26]
6. Violin Concerto in D minor (1853) [27:37]
7. Overture, Scherzo and Finale, Op. 52 (1841) [15:24]
Ingrid Haebler (piano), Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Eliahu Inbal (1);
Lynn Harrell (cello), The Cleveland Orchestra/Neville Marriner (2);
Dale Clevenger, Richard Oldberg, Thomas Howell, Norman Schweikert (horns), Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim (3);
Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano/conductor), London Symphony Orchestra (4);
Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano), London Symphony Orchestra/Uri Segal (5);
Joshua Bell (violin), The Cleveland Orchestra/Christoph von Dohnányi (6);
Wiener Philharmoniker/Sir Georg Solti (7).
rec. Concertgebouw, Grote Zaal, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, June 1972 (1); Masonic Auditorium, Cleveland, Ohio, USA, November 1981 (2); Orchestra Hall, Chicago, USA, March 1977 (3); Kingsway Hall, London, UK, May 1976 (4); Kingsway Hall, London, UK, June 1977 (5); Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio, USA, October 1994 (6); Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria, September 1969 (7). ADD (1,3,4,5,7) DDD (2,6)
DECCA ELOQUENCE 442 8410 [78:05 + 75:25]

This generous collection of Schumann’s concertante works goes straight to the top of the list. In fact, to the best of my knowledge as a collection it is completely unchallenged. There used to be an EMI Rouge et Noire release that featured at least the piano, violin and cello concertos but, as the use of past tense betrays, it has been deleted. There remains a similarly programmed twofer available from Brilliant Classics, but I have not heard it.
Ingrid Haebler’s recording of the piano concerto is new to compact disc, and its inclusion here is in itself a reason to consider purchase. Certainly there are more exciting, grand and cogent performances in the catalogue, but collectors will value this account for its classical poise and emotional inwardness. Haebler’s pianissimo passages in the second movement in particular are magical. She favours broad tempi and, although Inbal and the Concertgebouw support her with warmth and flexibility, the performance does hang fire in places in the first and third movements. The analogue sound has an attractive bloom, but is dull in the lower registers of the piano, and unkind to the timpani in the finale. If in the final analysis this is not a great recording, it is beautiful nonetheless and deserves a place as a secondary account in your personal library. If you are coming to all of this music for the first time, this recording will probably suffice, but my advice would be to buy this double CD for the remaining items and pick up an alternative recording of the piano concerto as a supplement. Foremost among those I would recommend are Richter’s account on EMI or Deutsche Grammophon, or Arrau’s 1963 recording with the Concergebouw - I picked this recording up on Eloquence 456 566-2, though it is not listed in the current Eloquence catalogue - surely this has not been deleted?
Lynn Harrell’s recording of the cello concerto is one of the best around. With tidy, sympathetic support from Marriner and the Cleveland Orchestra, Harrell spins a refined, singing performance of understated emotion. You may prefer the more heart-on-sleeve approach of Du Pré or Rostropovich, but for me Harrell’s subtlety makes the better case for this free-form concerto. His polished technique and true intonation are vividly caught by the early digital recording.
The Konzertstück for four horns deserves to be much better known and more widely heard. The writing for the four horns is incredibly difficult and treacherously exposed, and you really need four fabulous horn soloists to pull this piece off. The Chicago quartet are certainly equal to the challenge. Their blending of parts is superb and the outer movements, under Barenboim’s baton, are exultant.
The second disc opens with two gorgeously romantic performances from Vladimir Ashkenazy, one of the great Schumann pianists, and the London Symphony Orchestra, at the peak of its Previn days. Ashkenazy directs the orchestra from the keyboard in the Introduction and Allegro appassionato, and the orchestra responds to him with sensuous support. Conductor Uri Segal - who was to succeed Berglund as conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra a couple of years after this recording was made - waves a sympathetic baton in the Concert Allegro with Introduction, but the voltage is a little lower here. The analogue sound for both pieces is a little recessed, but the strength and beauty of Ashkenazy’s pianism more than outweighs sonic considerations.
There are no reservations about the performance that follows. Joshua Bell’s recording of Schumann’s flawed violin concerto is a clear first choice. His technique is sure and, with crisp, honest support from Dohnányi and the Clevelanders, he plays the concerto to its best advantage. The first movement in particular has great sweep and tenderness. This is a literal interpretation, but none the worse for that, and it easily betters Kremer’s earlier outing with Muti on EMI. I should note in fairness to Kremer that I have not heard his second recording of this concerto, made with Harnoncourt for Teldec, but in any case that performance is not currently available.
This fine brace of concertante discs closes with a performance of the Overture, Scherzo and Finale, a miniature symphony that forfeits the name only because it lacks a slow movement. Solti leads the Vienna Philharmonic in a sparkling account of this little gem. The scherzo is a bit choppy, but the close of the piece is exciting. Sawallisch on EMI is more idiomatic, but this piece is included here as a bonus, and should be enjoyed as such.
Music-lovers owe an enormous debt of thanks to Cyrus Meher-Homji at Universal Music Australia for far-sighted releases like these, which satisfy beginner and seasoned collector alike. At the Eloquence price, this is an unmissable bargain.
Tim Perry


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