Album Leaves: Robert and Clara Schumann

Robert Schumann
Carnaval, Op.9 [excerpts]
Fantasiestücke, Op.12 – Des Abends
Faschingsswank aus Wien, Op.26 – Intermezzo
Myrthen, Op.25 [selection]
Violin Sonata in A minor, Op.105 [First movement]
Liederkreis, Op.39 [selection]
Six Studies for Pedal-Piano, Op.56 – Study in A flat
Zwölf Gedichte von Justinus Kerner, Op.35 – Lust der Sturmnacht
Mendelssohn
Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, Op.49 [Second movement]
Clara Schumann
Liebst du um Schönheit, Op.12/4
Robert Schumann
Kinderszenen, Op.15 – Träumerei
Brahms
Scherzo in C minor [FAE Sonata]
Lieder und Gesänge, Op.63 – Meine Liebe ist grün
Robert Schumann
Bunte Blätter, Op.99 – Albumblatt No.4
Sechs Gedichte von Lenau, Op.90 – Meine Rose; Requiem
Kreisleriana – Sehr rasch
Mein schöner Stern!, Op.101/4

Bernarda Fink (mezzo-soprano) & Roger Vignoles (piano)

Imogen Cooper (piano)

Kungsbacka Piano Trio

Juliet Stevenson (narrator)


Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 27 March, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The use of a narrator who speaks between every piece is potentially irritating and there will always be the danger that the music will be spuriously chosen to mirror the words. You also have to hope that the performers will be of a suitably high standard and not thrown together from a ‘classical celebrity’ C-list. Finally, there is the danger of an earnest middle-England Laura Ashley tweeness enveloping the whole affair. My heart sunk with the five subtitled sections including ‘Only love can make me happy’ and ‘Was it a dream?’. When the performers entered in total darkness Juliet Stevenson desperately tried to light a candle with a match.

Eventually the lights went up to reveal two pianos, a mock-Regency chair and table with the aforesaid candle, the singer, solo pianist and accompanist seated.

Things did not start well. Imogen Cooper certainly attacked the preamble to Carnaval but her tone was metallic and there were many wrong notes. These problems would continue throughout the concert, although in the slower pieces her phrasing was exquisite. By contrast, Bernarda Fink and Roger Vignoles (who devised the evening) were exemplary, subtly underlining words and phrases and communicating every facet of each song. Musically, though, I was at a loss to understand why the late Violin Sonata’s opening movement was included – presumably it was meant to mirror the agitation portrayed in the letters and journals of Schumann and Clara Wieck halfway through their courtship – but, despite a committed performance, it just didn’t sound right. The second movement of the C major Fantasy (Opus 17) would have worked better.

After the interval was music from the couple’s contemporaries and friends. Here the musical mix was more successful, with a deeply moving account of “Requiem” concluding the evening. Throughout the programme, the constant was Stevenson, who effortlessly conveyed every emotion and came close to convincing me that the breaks in the musical flow were justified. Nevertheless, I would have preferred more music and less narration.



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