Schumann/Brahms: Bunte Blätter, Op. 99; Blumenstück, Op. 19; Variations on a Theme by Schumann, Op. 9

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COMPOSERS: Schumann/Brahms
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Bunte Blätter, Op. 99; Blumenstück, Op. 19; Variations on a Theme by Schumann, Op. 9
PERFORMER: Louis Lortie (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9289 DDD
A fascinatingly planned recital. The Bunte Blätter (or ‘Variegated Leaves’) are chippings from the Schumann workshop, though none the worse for that. They include a rejected number from his Novelettes, a gentle waltz that strayed from Carnaval and a piece originally destined for a set of revolutionary marches inspired by the Dresden Uprising of 1848. There is also a group of five Album Leaves; and around the time of Schumann’s final mental breakdown, Brahms and Clara Schumann each wrote a set of variations on the melancholy theme of the first of them. Brahms’s variations are full of hidden counterpoint and allusions: one of them recalls the second Album Leaf; and, in a touching echo of happier times, another manages to weave an early Romance theme by Clara, on which Schumann had himself once based a variation work. At the end, only the skeleton of Schumann’s theme remains, while above it fragmentary sighing phrases appear to dissolve in grief. It is an astonishingly mature work for a 21-year-old – a tribute from one rising genius to the fading star of another.

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Louis Lortie is one of those rare musicians in whose hands everything sounds utterly natural and effortless, and he has been very well recorded in the Maltings at Snape. Altogether, a highly rewarding disc of some unjustly neglected music. Misha Donat