Sally Beamish: Clara; C Schumann: Lieder – selection; R Schumann: Frauenliebe und -leben
Sandra Porter (mezzo-soprano), Graeme McNaught (piano)
First Hand Records FHR 98 54:50 mins
We recently had differently-contextualised recordings of Frauenliebe und -leben from soprano Carolyn Sampson and baritone Roderick Williams. Here now is the mezzo perspective, which offers its own distinctive slant with Clara, Sally Beamish’s 1995 collaboration with writer Janice Galloway. This amounts to an extended scena entwining the nuanced realities of Clara Schumann’s life and love with the idealised ruminations of Chamisso’s verses as set by husband Robert in his Op. 42 cycle. Treating Galloway’s words almost as a commentary on the cycle, Beamish fashions a compelling skein of pertinent quotations and less literal appropriations to underpin her own flair for penetrating narrative.
Having commissioned the piece, Sandra Porter and Graeme McNaught have lived with Clara for a quarter of a century. It shows in their intuitively ‘settled’ rapprochement, abetted by Porter’s experience in contemporary music theatre. She soars ecstatically when the new lodger (Schumann) makes his appearance; the music then retreats into haunted soliloquy as Clara ponders the sacrifices she must make for the sake of Robert’s composing and, later, their last meeting in the asylum. The opening bars of Frauenliebe und -leben itself fall as poignant balm on Clara’s anguish as the duo negotiate a beautifully modulated account gilded by McNaught’s finely-judged rubato and ear for Schumann’s telling countermelodies.
Clara’s own songs are sometimes a little under-characterised here. But the real story of this recording is the collision between the Beamish and Robert’s Op. 42 – a rewarding and endlessly fascinating interaction.