Schumann Chamber Music

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COMPOSERS: Robert Schumann
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Schumann Chamber Music
WORKS: Märchenbilder; Märchenzählungen; Violin Sonata no. 1 in A minor, etc
PERFORMER: The Nash Ensemble


Part of the motivation for writing miniatures like these was, simply, money. The market for amateur chamber works was growing in Schumann’s later years, and he needed the extra income. Yet so often something beautiful and very personal was distilled in these formally less ambitious pieces. The Adagio and Allegro shows how well Schumann understood the horn – not just technically, but also its Romantic pastoral personality. The Fantasiestücke and Märchenerzählungen (‘Fairy Tales’), and the simpler but equally telling Drei Romanzen, are delightful, poetic miniature suites. All give a touching flavour of what intimate music-making must have been like in the Schumann household.

The First Violin Sonata is closer to conventional chamber concert music, yet hearing it after the shorter works (a fine piece of CD programming) one realises how much of it stems from the same worlds of picturesque fantasy. The lyricism may be longer breathed and intense at times, but the tender, confessional quality remains. And how thoroughly each one of these performers warms to his or her allotted task (perhaps ‘role’ would be a better word), though it’s violinist Marianne Thorsen and pianist Ian Brown in the Sonata who steal the show. It makes a superb finale to a disc that works equally well whether you sample individual pieces or savour it as a whole. Everything is well recorded, and despite the strikingly varied power and tone of the solo instruments, the balance is always exemplary.


Stephen Johnson