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Feminae - The Female in Music
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann Op 20 (1853) [12:47]
Tatjana KOMAROVA (b. 1968)
Sonata (1990) [11:12]
Fanny HENSEL (1805-1847)
Introduction and Capriccio in B minor (1839/40) [7:04]
Margrit SCHENKER (b. 1954)
Palme mit Schnee (from “Baumklang”, 1999) [2:32]
Elisabetta de GAMBERINI (1731-1765)
Sonata in C major Op 1 No 5 (1748) [8:57]
Robert SCHUMANN (1818-1856)
Carnaval Op 9 (1834-35) [35:39]
Lisa Maria Schachtschneider (piano)
rec. 27-29 July 2020, Kulturzentrum Immanuel, Wuppertal, Germany

This is Lisa Maria Schachtschneider’s debut recording, and very good it is too. The title ‘Feminae’ refers to the emphasis on female composers in this programme, which was put together in 2019 with the bicentennial of Clara Schumann’s birth as a starting point. The classical music world is still male-dominated, and this SACD album is Schachtschneider’s “contribution to making the many wonderful works composed by women better known among concert audiences”.

Clara Schumann’s Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann was composed during a difficult period in her life, with the mental and physical health of her husband Robert deteriorating, and responsibility for their substantial household falling entirely on her shoulders. The haunting theme is from Robert Schumann’s Albumblätter Op 124, and there is indeed a strong tendency to melancholy in these seven variations. While there are some more extrovert variations the overall impression has less of an emphasis on virtuosity, and with one exception the dark key of F-sharp minor is explored with considerable emotional intensity. Tatjana Komarova’s compact Sonata also has emotional associations, coming from a period when she had just met her future husband Lars Vogt, who performed the work widely in the 1990s. The expressive qualities here are by no means hidden, but Komarova’s idiom doesn’t shy away from modernist gestures. This is by no means sentimental music even in its beautiful atmosphere later on in the work, but it has its own quirky and identifiable signatures, a little like the way Janáček incorporates deeply personal moments into his piano music, and perhaps with occasional hints of Messiaen by way of reference.

From an entirely different era, Fanny Hensel’s (born Fanny Mendelssohn) 19th century world was one in which female musicianship was seen as an appealing ornament, “but never the fundamental root of your being and doing.” She seems more or less to have ignored this stipulation from her father, going on to become a performer, conductor and composer with nearly 500 works to her name. The Introduction and Capriccio is a strong piece, composed while Fanny was on a vacation in Italy, and with some spectacular right-hand action in the Capriccio - a surprise after some searchingly expressive music in the Introduction. Swiss composer Margrit Schenker’s Palme mit Schnee has an impressionistic feel with hints of Debussy, this piece being part of a collection that grew out of improvisations that focussed on nature both external and internal. Elisabetta de Gamarini was an 18th century English composer working in the late Baroque style. The transparent two-part textures and C major tonality which deliver a delightful contrast to the works that surround it while at the same time being by no means superficial - it is indeed remarkable to be reminded what can be communicated with just two lines of counterpoint.

The programme concludes with an impressive performance of Robert Schumann’s Carnaval, the subtitle of which is Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes (Little Scenes on Four Notes). Lisa Maria Schechtschneider’s characterisations of the various figures in this piece are well defined; witty and knowing where the subject of the music requires, and not afraid to introduce plenty of personality and power into characters and places where there might be a temptation to be overly rose-tinted in terms of interpretation. Tenderness is by no means absent however, with a lovely touch given to the little Aveu towards the end. This is a piece that has been recorded widely and everyone will have their own favourites. I still have a soft spot for Alessandra Ammara’s recording on the ARTS label (review) but it’s easy to love both versions. Ammara’s readings tend to have a more urgent character when compared to Schachtschneider’s, who on the other hand leaves more breathing space for characters such as her amusingly clumsy Pierrot. The Sphinxes are also included by Schachtschneider, who gives them some added low octave weight rather than leaving them out altogether or excusing their appearance with a vague rendition as printed.

The recorded sound for this SACD disc is excellent, and its presentation is also very nice. The booklet has texts in German and English and more pictures of Lisa Maria, of whom I am sure we will hear much more in the future. I applaud Lisa Maria Schachtschneider’s choice of a fine Bösendorfer Imperial for this recording. You can sense the combination of the wonderful acoustics in the Immanuelskirche and the sound of the instrument creating a special experience all round, an atmosphere well served in SACD quality. Further applause is deserved for Lisa Maria’s crusade to make concert organisers more open to unfamiliar composers, even in the face of post-pandemic austerity and almost inevitable cuts in cultural sectors all over the world.

Dominy Clements

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