Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Concerto in D minor WoO 1 (1853) [32:12]
Piano Trio No 3 in G minor Op. 110 (1851) [29:13]
Isabelle Faust (violin); Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello); Alexander Melnikov (piano)
Freiburger Barockorchester/Pablo Heras-Casado
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, Germany, May, August, September 2014
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902196 [61:37]

This is the start of what promises to be both an interesting and a groundbreaking project to record Schumann’s three concertos, not including his arrangement of the Cello Concerto for violin. These recordings will be coupled with the three piano trios and each of the members of the trio will take the lead in one of the concertos. Original instruments will be used throughout. Volume 2 is due in the autumn of 2015 with volume 3 to follow in 2016.

The Violin Concerto has had something of a mixed past. The fruit of Schumann’s late period when he was suffering with his final illness and plagued with depression and delusions, it was completed in October 1853, just a few months before his suicide attempt the following February. The Concerto was then, for whatever reason withdrawn. It has been suggested that Clara and the young Brahms deemed it unworthy of publication and performance. Joachim, for whom the Violin Concerto was intended, only saw the score after the composer’s death and never performed it. It was even omitted from the revised edition of Schumann’s complete works. The score then languished in a Berlin library and it was not until 1937 that Georg Kulenkampff and the Berlin Philharmonic gave the premiere, recording it shortly afterwards.

The Concerto, whilst composed in a style less poetic and passionate than his early masterpieces, still has a lot to offer to soloist and audience alike. The work is arguably more virtuosic than his other two concertos and this despite the lack of a first movement cadenza. Its real heart is in the deeply moving slow middle movement. Here the beautiful violin motif is the one that haunted the composer during his final illness — the theme which he said was given to him by spirits and which he was to incorporate into his Theme and Variations in E flat Major for Piano ‘Geistervariationen’. This is followed by a short bridging section which leads in to the dance-like final movement. I have always liked this work, especially in John Storgårds’ fine performance with the Tampere Philharmonic and Leif Segerstam (ODE 879-2), a performance hard to beat. Here Isabelle Faust is excellent. Her interpretation is spirited and well balanced, slightly quicker than Storgårds in the first two movements but slower in the final movement. Whilst Faust does not eclipse Storgårds, this performance makes a really strong case for the work and is certainly up there with the best. I particularly enjoyed the involvement of the Freiburger Barockorchester, with their use of original instruments helping Schumann’s orchestration to breathe.

The Op. 110 Piano Trio was composed in Düsseldorf. It is another relatively late work, dating from two years before the Violin Concerto in 1851, although it did not receive its first public performance until the following year. As with all of the Trios, it is in four movements, the first of which is one of Schumann’s finest in sonata-form. The movement shows the composer at his most turbulent with two main themes, both bold and dark. This is followed by the slow movement in which we find Schumann at his most reflective and Romantic. There then follow two quicker movements which could be seen as being thematically linked with the somewhat wayward third movement giving way to the dancelike fourth. This is late Schumann at its best and here it is accorded the treatment that it deserves. This trio of soloists have shown their worth in their excellent disc of Beethoven (HMC 902125), and here they are on top form again. Their performance is a little slower than both the Beaux Arts Trio (456 323-2) and the Florestan Trio (CDA67175). This does not detract from the music, rather their use of gut strung instruments and a contemporary Streicher piano helps the score come to life.

This neatly packaged gatefold digipack comes with a DVD performance of the Violin Concerto which was recorded in the hall of the Berliner Philharmonie. Whilst it is nice to have this I can’t actually see myself watching it that often. This is despite some aspects of the recording coming over better than in the CD version, especially the timpani. I just don’t tend to watch live recitals on DVD. I would have enjoyed seeing the interplay between the three musicians in the Trio more than the Concerto, as you get so much more out of watching chamber music performed than just listening to it.

The sound is excellent as are the booklet notes by Roman Hinke. In fact, my only criticism is one of proof-reading, with the first movement tempo markings, both on the booklet and the back of the CD case being misspelt. That is hardly anything when everything else is this good.

Stuart Sillitoe

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