Schumann: Violin Concerto; Piano Trio No. 3

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Piano Trio No. 3
PERFORMER: Isabelle Faust (violin), Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello), Alexander Melnikov (piano); Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/Pablo Heras-Casado


It’s a particularly bold gesture to kick off this enterprising series of recordings coupling Schumann’s concertos and piano trios with these two late works. Even today, when long-held critical attitudes have been modified in the light of more enlightened scholarship, the Violin Concerto and Third Piano Trio are still unfairly targeted in some quarters as emblematic of a sad decline in the composer’s creative powers as he battled against the onset of madness. The violinist Joseph Joachim is partially responsible for perpetuating this myth, having used such an argument to place a 100-year performance embargo on the Concerto that Schumann composed for him in 1853.

Fortunately, the Violin Concerto was brought into the public domain somewhat earlier than Joachim had envisaged, being premiered in Berlin during the Nazi era. Yet despite the advocacy of such stellar musicians as Yehudi Menuhin, Henryk Szeryng and Gidon Kremer, the work still does not enjoy as widespread esteem as it undoubtedly deserves. Perhaps its time has now come. In this superb performance, Isabelle Faust brings tremendous musical insight and an infinite variety of colour to the hugely demanding solo part.

The great advantage of presenting Schumann on period instruments is brilliantly demonstrated here. Pablo Heras-Casado and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra’s urgent account of the orchestral accompaniment affords welcome textural clarity and propulsive rhythmic incisiveness to the dramatic tuttis of the first movement, and for the lengthy Polonaise Finale they provide a measured yet utterly compelling foundation. Similar musical revelations abound in the Third Piano Trio where Alexander Melnikov’s wonderfully sensitive playing of an early 19th-century piano enables the cello to share more of the musical limelight than is possible on a modern instrument.


Erik Levi