Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi Baroque Esprit
WORKS: Piano Concerto; Piano Trio No. 2*
PERFORMER: Alexander Melnikov (fortepiano); Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/Pablo Heras-Casado; Isabelle Faust (violin)*, Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello)*
CATALOGUE NO: Harmonia Mundi HMC 902198


Hearing the Schumann Piano Concerto performed on period instruments is rather like seeing a familiar old master painting afresh after the varnish has been cleaned. The colours are brighter, the textures more transparent and the musical narrative has greater immediacy. What is especially striking in this charismatic and illuminating interpretation is Alexander Melnikov’s capacity to muster such a wide dynamic range and varied palette of timbres from his 1837 Érard fortepiano.

The scale of his achievement can be measured by contrasting the surprisingly percussive attack of the opening flourish with the dreamy almost impressionist soundscape conjured up in the Andante espressivo middle section. In essence, both soloist and conductor respond vividly to the unfolding drama of the first movement and in particular to the psychological struggle between the heroic Florestan and the contemplative Eusebius, the two mythical characters that underpinned much of Schumann’s poetic imagination.

There are a few moments in the rest of the Concerto where I’m not completely won over. For example, the Intermezzo could benefit from greater fluidity and whimsy, and the major and minor key recall of the opening theme at the onset of the Finale sounds a little perfunctory. But thereafter, any doubts are swept away by the exhilarating rustic swagger and rhythmic power with which Melnikov and Pablo Heras-Casado project the Allegro vivace.


If anything the Piano Trio No. 2 is even more compelling. Again, the use of an early 19th-century fortepiano, here a Streicher of 1847, brings textural clarity, enhanced by the exceptionally subtle and sensitive dialogue between the two superb string players. Erik Levi