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Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856)
Märchenbilder, Op. 113 (1851) [15:25]
Fünf Stücke im Volkston, Op. 102 (1849) [15:32]
Piano Quintet in E-Flat Major, Op. 44 (1842) [28:53]
Benvenue Fortepiano Trio (Eric Zivian (fortepiano); Monica Huggett (violin); Tanya Tomkins (cello))
Jodi Levitz (viola)
Carla Moore (violin)
rec. Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California, 26-30 January 2016
AVIE AV2365 [59:48]

This disc follows on from the Benvenue Fortepiano Trio’s impressive survey of Schumann’s Piano Trios (AV2210, AV2272). I found that those renditions breathed new life into these works, something which is continued in this present disc. Here, with help from their friends, Jodi Levitz and Carla Moore, the Trio turns its attention to some of Schumann’s other fine chamber works. Whilst I have recordings of all these works, many of which are regarded as the classic recording, these present versions certainly add something of value to the catalogue.

Written in 1851, Schumann’s Märchenbilder or "Fairy Tale Pictures", were composed for viola and piano. Along with other chamber works, John Daverio in his book "Robert Schumann: Herald of a 'New Poetic Age'" (OUP, 1997, p. 412) describes them as “a systematic exploration of the coloristic possibilities of the few-voiced instrumental chamber idiom, situating Schumann in the center of a tradition bounded by J.S. Bach on one end and Hindemith on the other.” The music is charming and deeply romantic in nature and whilst the pieces themselves do not give any suggestion of the fairy tales in question, a look through the composer's journal points to Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin and Sleeping Beauty as the impetus for three of the four pieces. Here Eric Zivian and Jodi Levitz play the pieces beautifully well.

The five short Stücke im Volkston of 1849, Schumann’s most fruitful year, have always been a favourite of mine, with the opening Mit Humor, as it suggests, offering the listener something seldom found in Schumann’s music. These five pieces written in a ‘popular’ or ‘folk’ style represent the composer writing for the masses. They may not be his most demanding or inspired works, but his use of the popular musical idioms of the day makes them attractive. Here Zivian is joined by his cellist partner from the Trio, Tanya Tomkins, to bring life to the music.

The final work on this disc needs little introduction, his Piano Quintet which was composed during the September and October of 1842, his so-called “chamber music year”, is one of his masterpieces, and to my mind one of the finest piano quintets ever composed. From the opening energetic main theme of the first movement Allegro brillante Schumann firmly nails his colours to the mast. This is one of the finest pieces of chamber music ever composed in the romantic idiom, and here it gets a performance to match its status.

The musicians here give excellent performances of all these pieces. Their use of period instruments lets new light into these works, a clarity which brings them to life with every note and nuance leaping from the page. Eric Zivian’s playing of an 1841 Franz Rausch fortepiano is revelatory. It's not at all "plinky-plonky", as a friend of mine describes fortepianos, nor as heavy sounding as some modern instruments. This, along with the music itself, is the star of the show. The playing is captured well and sympathetically by the sound engineers, and the notes by David A. Thresher are excellent, making this a very desirable disc.

Stuart Sillitoe



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