Atmosphere and Mastery
Brahms: Symphony No. 3; C Schumann: Piano Sonata*; Piano Trio in G minor**; Three Songs†; Quatre pièces fugitives, Op. 15**; R Schumann: Symphony No. 3
†Adrianne Pieczonka (soprano), Yōsuke Kawasaki (violin), Rachel Mercer (cello), *Gabriela Montero, **Stewart Goodyear, †Liz Upchurch (piano); Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra/Alexander Shelley
Analekta AN 2 8882-3 131:38 mins (2 discs)
The story of Robert and Clara Schumann and their relationship with Johannes Brahms provides the central force of this superb collection. It has the air of a festival, with music in a variety of formats. What’s more, it demonstrates palpably the impact of their human relationships on their compositions.
Alexander Shelley places at its heart the third symphonies of Robert Schumann (the ‘Rhenish’) and Brahms; hearing the two together points up just how far the latter pays tribute to the former. The main theme of Brahms’s first movement comes from a little closing motif in the Schumann; and matching hemiolas swing through the rhythms of both opening allegros. In clear-as-daylight booklet notes, Jan Swafford demonstrates the palpable presence of the Schumanns in Brahms’s work which, far from being as ‘pure music’ as was once believed, is chock-full of musical references to the beloved couple who set him upon his path.
Shelley and the orchestra respond to this emotional world with suitably impassioned accounts, using tempos that are energetic yet spacious enough to steep us in, for instance, the full effect of the extraordinary juxtaposed harmonies in Brahms’s third movement.
With the symphonies, there’s a feast of Clara Schumann: her Piano Sonata, played with sensual relish and gleaming tone by Gabriela Montero, three great songs with full-blooded singing from Adrianne Pieczonka, and the fabulous Piano Trio of 1846 in the expert hands of Stewart Goodyear, Yōsuke Kawasaki and Rachel Mercer. If only she had written a symphony or three.