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Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Clara Schumanns Klavier
Soirées musicales, op. 6 Nos. 1 and 2 [7:09]
Souvenir de Vienne [6:45]
Sonate für Klavier in g minor [17:18]
Trois Romances, op. 11 [13:35]
Quatre pièces fugitives, op. 15 [13:19]
Drei Romanzen, Op. 21 No. 1 [6:07]
Eugenie Russo (fortepiano)
rec. 2007, Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente, Vienna, Austria

This is a splendid selection of the piano music of Clara Schuman, performed on an 1868 Streicher piano that Clara is known to have played at the opening concert of the Small Hall of the Vienna Musikverein in 1870. Despite the instrument’s age - nearly 150 years old at the time of the recording - Alfons Huber of the Kunst Historisches Museum Wien has maintained the instrument to a remarkable level, achieving a sound on this fortepiano with hardly any discernible differences from that of a modern grand. Yes, it might lack a little power, but tonally it is superb, something that is discussed in the informative two-page description of the piano.

One of the most in demand piano virtuosos of her day, Clara embarked on at least one foreign tour almost every year between 1832 and 1888. She also composed extensively, the piano featuring largely in her list of compositions and even writing cadenzas for two of Beethoven’s piano concertos and one of Mozart’s. This disc offers the listener a wide selection of her music, covering a seventeen-year time span from 1836 to 1853, opening with the first two of the six pieces that make up her Soirées musicales, op. 6. In the first of these, the Toccatina, she looks back towards the baroque toccata, although its choppy rhythm gives way to a more romantic central section, before returning to the original music. This is followed by the altogether different feeling of the Notturno, its three sections, slow-moderate-slow, being more akin to the Romanticism of Chopin.

Her Souvenir de Vienne Op. 9 comes as a bit of a surprise. Described as an impromptu, it was composed in 1838 as a thank you to the city for bestowing on her the title Kammervertuosin. It begins with a very short introduction before launching into a set of two variations on Joseph Haydn’s imperial anthem and includes some quite virtuosic writing. This is followed by Clara Schumann’s own sonata, which began life as a two movement sonatina she gave to Robert as a Christmas present in 1841, her plan having been to compose for him a complete sonata but she managed only the first and third movements. However, as Joan Chissell tells us “The brief but soulfully songful Adagio in E flat and the concluding Rondo in G minor were not finished until January 15, 1842.” This is a wonderful work; despite its “somewhat naïvely planned Rondo”, it is difficult to see why it was not published although it was probably designed to be her Op.18.

This is followed by the Trois Romances, op. 11, composed in 1838 and 1839 and published the following year. Although they are short and overtly Romantic, it would be wrong to describe them as salon pieces, as they have an air of Robert about them, his influence being abundantly clear. It is a similar story when we come to the Quatre pièces fugitives, op. 15, which were possibly composed over a four-year period between 1840 and 1844. They are quite individualistic and skittish in character. The final piece on the disc dated from 1853, and is the first, and best known, of a series of Drei Romanzen Op. 21. The work is in A minor and is dedicated to Brahms, Clara’s friend and support after the death of Robert. It is marked Andante, sehr innig bewegt and tinged with “unbelievable tenderness but also sadness, giving us a glimpse of the depth of the relationship that must have existed between these two creative souls.” (Rudolf Hopfner) Whatever the case, this selection shows that Clara Schumann was a composer of real merit, who should be listened to in her own right, and not just from curiosity because she was the wife of Robert or a female composer.

This is a wonderful disc of music, which has been brought to life by the excellent playing of Eugenie Russo, who provides a masterclass of nuanced touch and technique. Add to this the fact that it is played not only on a period piano but one that Clara herself is known to have performed on, and this becomes a real winner. The booklet notes by Rudolf Hopfner, in both German and English, give equal attention to the instrument and the music, and are informative although even more on the music would have been nice. The recorded sound is very good, and the Streicher piano sounds clear and warm. This is a must for all fans of Clara Schuman, as well as of Romantic piano music in general.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: Brian Reinhart

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