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Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.7 (1834)
(1. Allegro maestoso [7:08]; 2. Romanze: Andante non troppo con grazia [4:52]; 3. Finale: Allegro non troppo – Allegro molto [11:30])
Francesco Nicolosi (piano)
Alma Mater Sinfonietta/Stefania Rinaldi
Piano Trio in G minor, Op.17 (1846)
(1. Allegro moderato [11:02]; 2. Scherzo: Tempo di Menuetto [5:23]; 3. Andante [6:33]; 4. Allegretto [7:26])
Francesco Nicolosi (piano); Rodolfo Bonucci (violin); Andrea Noferini (cello).
rec. Concerto: 25-26 May, 2004, St Marcellino Church, Naples, Italy; Trio 28 September 2004, Studio 52, Naples, Italy. Produced under the auspices of the Fondazione Pasquale Valerio Per la Storia Delle Donne.
NAXOS 8.557552 [53:54]



I feel a degree of guilt these days when I remember a time, albeit a very long time ago, when I was unaware that there were any women composers. I know better now and, in fact, recently discovered that the ‘New Grove Dictionary of Women Composers’ lists no fewer than 875. Clearly there has been some kind of cultural conspiracy at work throughout the centuries to play down the work of women composers. I was, therefore, pleased to read that this disc was produced under the auspices of the Pasquale Valerio Foundation for the Study of the History of Women. The Foundation was founded in 2004 “with the object of highlighting and increasing the general appreciation of the role of women in many different areas of society.” The liner notes further explain that “The Foundation’s intention is to give prominence to those women patrons of the arts, supporters, performers and composers who have made a contribution to musical history, and, in the future, it plans to promote other musical events designed to turn the spotlight on today’s female talents and to rediscover the works of earlier women composers, which have hitherto been neglected and insufficiently appreciated.” A laudable aim! This disc would have been an obvious choice for that organisation to be involved with since it is of the best known works by probably the most well known woman composer: Clara Schumann.

Clara Schumann was born in Leipzig in 1819 and her father Friedrich Wieck, a piano teacher, tutored her as a pianist from an early age. Whatever has been said about him, it should be acknowledged that he was prepared, and eager, to see his daughter become an accomplished pianist who could earn her living as such. This was something rare in those far-off days when women writers had to assume male pseudonyms in order to get published and women composers were as rare as hens’ teeth!

Clara made her public debut at the age of 9 in a piano duet and made her solo debut when she was 11. She began writing the piano concerto when she was 14 and completed it in time for Robert Schumann, her father’s piano pupil, to orchestrate it by February 1834. She gave its first performance in November 1835 with the Gewandhaus orchestra; Mendelssohn conducting.

By any criteria the Piano Concerto is a truly remarkable piece for a 14 year old. It is a work with memorable themes and a sunny vision throughout and which achieves Clara’s aim of doing without what she considered the more flamboyant excesses often found in similar compositions by her male colleagues. The themes are simply stated though the work requires a fair degree of virtuosity by the pianist. If you didn’t know the authorship of the work you might very well be tempted to guess at her future husband or even Mendelssohn or Chopin. All three men had been born in the same year 1810 - though as stated above the music is without the more obvious demonstrations of machismo. On this disc it is played very well by both soloist and orchestra and an eloquent case is made for other pianists to record it.

The Piano Trio is no doubt better known than the concerto and was the fruit of several more years of study and experimentation written, as it was, in 1846. The music is beautifully lyrical with lush melodies, the themes superbly shaped and the three instruments each fully exploited, none of them being weighted more than the others. There is a sadness there which feels all the more poignant when you learn that Clara’s fourth child Emil, born that February, was to die a year later and that during the very summer she composed it she suffered a possible miscarriage whilst on holiday with Robert on the north sea coast at Norderney. This performance is well recorded revealing all the detail.

The disc is another feather in Naxos’s cap. As I often find myself saying in similar circumstances - if you don’t know Clara Schumann’s abilities then this disc is an excellent introduction at a tiny price.

Steve Arloff

see also Reviews by Evan Dickerson and Colin Clarke





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