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Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 7a (1835) [23’30]. Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 17b (1846) [30’24].
Francesco Nicolosi (piano); bRodolfo Bonucci (violin); bAndrea Noferini (cello); aAlma Mahler Sinfonietta/Stefania Rinaldi.
Rec. aSt Marcellino Church, Naples, Italy on May 25th-26th, 2004, bStudio 52, Naples Italy, on September 24th, 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557552 [53’54]

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A superb disc that will, I hope, act as an introduction for many to the music of Clara Schumann. Sub-Robert this ain’t. Clara has a personality all of her own, at once more ‘open-air’ than her husband, and at times (concerto) decidedly Chopinesque. If there is one thing that runs through all 54 minutes of this disc, it is Clara’s sure compositional voice; there is a confidence here that assures the listener that all is in hand.

The dense A minor tutti that opens the concerto immediately impresses – big and dramatic, things of import are clearly afoot. The piano enters quite early; certainly earlier than expected on first hearing, that’s for sure - about 45 seconds in, in fact. Chopinesque filigrees are common (see above), and are wonderfully sensitively rendered by Francesco Nicolosi - the only male musician here, as the orchestra is all-female, as is the conductor. The recording allows for the frequent intimacy of expression to register, a trait particularly welcome in the Romanze second movement (essentially a Nocturne). Here Clara’s invention is at its height. It certainly seems to inspire Nicolosi, who shades melodies exquisitely including the right-hand octave melody around 1’50. Also noteworthy is the way, after extended solo piano, a solo cello emerges from the piano texture. A final surprise is the subtle and effective use of timpani roll (4’40-‘50).

A trumpet introduces the finale, a triple-time dance-like movement that is, unusually, the longest movement; 11’30 as opposed to 7’08 for the first movement and 4’52 for the second. The reintroduction of a slower tempo at around 6’15 is noteworthy and effective. This is a lovely movement – Clara even stretches her contrapuntal muscles, and piano-woodwind dialogue is a delight.

The Piano Trio appeared, if memory serves, on a BBC Music Magazine cover disc in around 1995/6. A disc on Hyperion’s Helios label couples it with Fanny Mendelssohn’s Trio (Dartington Trio, CDH55078). It deserves multiple-versions in the catalogue; if anything, it is an even better work than the Concerto - it dates from eleven years later. Nicolosi, Bonussi and Noferini (the latter two not even listed on the disc cover) work very well indeed as a team, as polished and responsive to each other as they are to Clara’s stream of inspiration.

There is hardly any gap between first and second movements - just a couple of seconds. Surely a few more seconds’ breather would have been in order, Naxos? Still, the ‘Scherzo’ (confusingly marked ‘Tempo di Menuetto’) is highly sweet. The Andante is a gorgeous utterance, but the tempo the players set is surely closer to an Adagio? Also there seems to be uncharacteristically stilted playing from Nicolosi at the opening - some accents are on the lumpy side. Could this be because the work was recorded in one day and there was not time for a retake? Tender interchanges later do actually banish memories of this, though. The finale is gentle, but includes the only real compositional miscalculation, a fugal passage that just sounds contrived.

Do not let that put you off, however. This is an important disc that I for one hope will introduce new listeners to this important composer.

Colin Clarke


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