Tuesday 14 June 2016

Freely poetic - Schumann's cello concerto and piano trio no. 1

Schumann Cello Concerto - Jean-Guihen Queyras
Schumann Cello Concerto, Piano Trio No.1; Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Freiburger Baroqckorchester, Pablo Heras-Casado; Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 08 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Poetic rhetoric: performance which makes Schumann's late concerto the centre of attention

This disc is the latest of the Schumann discs from Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Freiburger Barockorchester and Pablo Heras-Casado in Harmonia Mundi in which one of Schumann's concertos is paired with one of his piano trios. On this disc, Queyras is the soloist in Schumann's Cello Concerto, and he is joined by Melnikov and Faust for Schumann's Piano Trio No. 1, Op.63. The disc is also part of conductor Pablo Heras-Casado's wider Die neue Romantik collection with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra in which they explore the music of Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn.

Schumann's Cello Concerto of 1850 is a relatively late work and, unlike the violin and piano concertos, does not seem to have been intended for a particular soloist. The concerto is very much not in the mould of the grand dialectical dialogue familiar from the concertos by Beethoven. Despite the work's popularity Schumann's intentions have often been misunderstood, with the piece shoe-horned into being a great romantic concerto. In fact, Schumann referred to it as a concert piece for cello with orchestral accompaniment, and in it he was clearly trying to write something freely poetic. The big advantage of this new recording is the way the performers take the piece at face value and do not try to make it something else.
From the opening of the first movement, marked Nicht zu schnell, the transparency of the orchestral accompaniment is notable, complementing the fine singing tone of Queyras' solo line. Queyras also brings a lovely range of colours to the part. There are moments when the cello seems to be more primus inter pares than dominant soloist. The performance is characterised by a lyrical rapture, rather than romantic intensity, and there is a nice sense of poetic freedom. The second movement, marked Langsam, starts with a veiled and haunting opening from the orchestra, and throughout the movement there is a nicely rhetorical quality to Queyras' playing. The last movement, Sehr lebhaft, has a real clarity to the busy passagework in the solo cello, and poetic rhetoric in the cadenza. Throughout there are some lovely solos from the orchestra, notably the woodwind. Soloist and conductor really bring out the feeling, intended I think by Schumann, that the work is in a single arc with three section, rather than discrete movements.

Schumann's Piano Trio No. 1 dates from 1847, it is part of group of works (including the other piano trios, the piano quartet and piano quintet) which examine what the relationship of the piano to the strings can be in chamber music. This is particularly in the light of the significant technical developments in the piano. Having written a piano quartet and piano quintet in 1843/44, I have often wondered whether the fact that his wife produced a piano trio in 1846 struck a chord with Schumann as he wrote his trio  a year later. Schumann's piano trios, with their elaborate piano writing, can often seem extensions of his piano solo music and have often been treated as mini piano-concertos.

In four movements, the opening Mit Energie und Leidenschaft is notable for the way the texture seems so unified. The three players bring a nice ebb and flow to the dense writing, giving a fluid and flowing performance. There are nice contrasts, by turns real delicacy, transparency with moments of drama. The second movement, Lebhaft, doch nicht zu rasch, is crisply lively with a sense of rhythmic excitement, plus a mysterious feel in the trio. Langsam, mit inniger Empfindung has evocative bleached tone from the strings, and a very spare texture even when the tempo picks up, and there is something rather anxious in the way the instruments weave in and out of the middle section. The final movement, Mit Feuer, is swiftly flowing as different instruments come into focus. The piano part is extremely busy, but forms a back drop rather than dominating, and overall the players keep up an enviable sense of excitement.

The set also includes a DVD, with the Schumann Cello Concerto recorded live at the Philharmonie, Berlin. This is a fairly straightforward film of a concert, but it does give us the opportunity to see and hear the performers live.

I enjoyed this set enormously as it made me think again about Schumann's concerto and his piano trio writing, I am now keen to hear the other CDs in the series.

Robert Schumann (1810-1856) - Cello Concerto, op.129
Robert Schumann - Piano trio No. 1, op.63
Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello)
Isabelle Faust (violin)
Alexander Melnikov (fortepiano)
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
Pablo Heras-Casado (conductor)
Recorded May, August, September 2014, Teldex Studio, Berlin

Available from Amazon.co.uk.

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