Of the great Austro-German composers I’ve always considered Robert Schumann the most enigmatic. He died in an asylum and despite his mental health long being the topic of impassioned debate there is no doubting the beauty of his music.
The 200th anniversary of Schumann’s birth in 2010 sparked a renewed interest in Schumann’s life and works. That year I can remember interviewing concert pianist John Lill who stated his love for Schumann’s music: “The music of Schumann does show some signs of his unbalanced mental state but Schumann was so great that his music only benefits by it; the irregularity of it. It just shows how versatile a figure he was, what an inspired poet he was.”
The first work on this Hyperion release is the enduringly popular Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 composed in 1841/45 — a quintessential work of the Romantic concerto repertoire. Biographer Ronald Taylor (‘Robert Schumann: His Life and Work’ pub. Granada, 1985) writes that the concerto “is held together by a pervasive joyous emotion that surges through the work from beginning to end.” It was Clara Schumann who premièred it in 1845 at Leipzig with the dedicatee Ferdinand Hiller conducting.
In the booklet notes to this release Angela Hewitt explains that people don’t seem to want a single movement concerto. I fear this is the case as demonstrated by the relative neglect of both Schumann’s Introduction und Allegro appassionato
, Op. 92 and Introduction and Concert-Allegro
, Op. 134. Written in 1849 the Introduction und Allegro appassionato
was, it seems, sketched in a mere couple of days. Around this time Schumann had become fascinated with the heroic figure and supernatural world of Lord Byron’s dramatic poem Manfred
. Clara introduced the work the next year in Leipzig. The final score here, the Introduction and Concert-Allegro
was written for Clara in 1853 just prior to meeting the young Brahms.
Angela Hewitt is an admirer of Schumann and, as well as these three scores for piano and orchestra, she has in her repertoire a number of his solo piano works. Throughout the recording Hewitt’s strikingly elegant and expressive playing radiates freshness with a legato that feels splendidly judged. The listener has no reason to fear any insensitivity or wilfulness. In the Piano Concerto
her playing of the opening movement Allegro affettuoso
has real quality; so forthright and fresh. The F major Intermezzo
: Andantino grazioso
is gloriously warm and lyrical and the exhilarating Finale
: Allegro vivace
has an authentic sense of drama.
Such a steadfast orchestra these days, the excellent Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Hannu Lintu provides persuasive support greatly adding to the success of the recording. The sound quality is excellent with an especially satisfying balance between piano and orchestra.
There are numerous recordings of the Schumann Piano Concerto
in the catalogue and the competition is bound to be fierce. I have a number of excellent accounts and the present recording is of the same elevated quality. The two accounts that I turn to most were also recorded at the Jesus-Christus-Kirche Berlin. The first from 1963 is played so memorably by soloist Géza Anda and the Berliner Philharmoniker under Rafael Kubelik on Deutsche Grammophon. The second, so spontaneous in feel, is from 1986 with Jorge Bolet and the Berlin RSO (the former name of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin) under Riccardo Chailly on Decca.
Previous review: Dominy
Masterwork Index: Schumann piano concerto