Clara Schumann: Romances, Opp. 3 & 21; Scherzos, Opp. 10 & 14; Le ballet des revenants; Toccatina, Op. 6/1; Andante; Preludes and Fugues

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COMPOSERS: Clara Schumann
LABELS: Discover
WORKS: Romances, Opp. 3 & 21; Scherzos, Opp. 10 & 14; Le ballet des revenants; Toccatina, Op. 6/1; Andante; Preludes and Fugues
PERFORMER: Uriel Tsachor (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: DICD 920267 DDD
Clara Schumann was a prodigy, both as a pianist and a composer. She wrote mainly for herself and completed a beautiful piano concerto, in the same key as her future husband’s, ten years earlier than his, though she was still only 16. Clara renounced composition halfway through her life, saying a woman ought not to have ambitions in that direction.

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Her style is full of the fresh ardour of early Romanticism, very similar to her husband’s and also to Mendelssohn, though her music never sounds as complacent as some of Mendelssohn’s and if, today, the basic ideas occasionally seem a bit salonish, they are usually enriched as the piece progresses. Clara knew exactly what she could do; it’s a pity she didn’t push the boat out even further.

Beneath Clara’s effervescence there’s a pervasive inclination to melancholy. And the saddest piece is not the Romance she wrote at the end of 1856, following her husband’s death, but the first of the Op. 21 set, which she began about the time Robert first showed signs of derangement. To me, the brief second piece of that set, which is light and Mendelssohnian, would sound even better at almost twice the speed.

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The disc is a useful survey – interesting in its own right as well as for providing the sources for at least three quotations in Schumann’s piano music. But the recorded sound is totally unacceptable – tiny, thin and shallow. It makes listening painful. The playing probably sounds much worse than it is. In the crisp, slightly spooky Ballet des revenants, Uriel Tsachor sounds as if he’s hitting the keys, and almost seems frantic in the Toccatina. Even in the more lyrical Romances, his touch sounds hard and stabbing. Adrian Jack