Notes and Editorial Reviews
Steven Isserlis returns to his beloved Schumann – could this be his best recording yet?
Steven Isserlis scored a great hit last year with his recording of the Bach Cello Suites, which he called the summit of his professional life. He carries that sensational form onwards to this captivating, multifaceted Schumann selection. Not only does pianist Dénes Várjon provide an apt foil for the star cellist, Isserlis is so good that our reviewer Harriet Smith is moved to wonder whether this is his best ever recording.
-- Gramophone [5/2009]
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Adagio and Allegro,
Violin Sonata No. 3
5 Pieces in Folk Style,
Steven Isserlis (vc); Dénes Várjon (pn)
HYPERION 67661 (70:11)
Adagio and Allegro,
3 Fantasy Pieces,
5 Pieces in Folk Style,
Matthias Rácz (bn); Yu Kosuge (pn)
38034 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 65:22)
Schumann’s so-called short chamber works have proved a cornucopia for instruments other than the original dedicatees. On these two outstanding albums, there is only one piece intended for one of the instruments (cello), and none for the bassoon, though Schuman, for practical purposes, did designate certain alternative choices in the instrumentation if the situation warranted it. The
Five Pieces in Folk Style
was created for the cello, and Isserlis plays it beautifully, though Rácz, principal bassoonist for the Tonhalle Zurich Orchestra and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, plays it with equal aplomb and insight. Listening to both these discs in the order you see them above was most instructive, and yet confusing at the same time. I adore Isserlis’s playing in general—a more lyrical cellist you will not find on the contemporary scene—but found his renditions subordinate to that of the bassoon. Why, I am not sure, as Isserlis does everything one could ask for, indeed, everything that
be done; perhaps it is my own knowledge of these originals that were mostly provided for wind instruments, and Schumann unconsciously wrote with their timbres in mind. Certainly that is the case in the
op. 94, where the very line of the oboe seems perfect only for that instrument. Hearing it an octave lower, while it does not irrevocably harm the piece, does present it in a slightly disjointed manner.
Adagio and Allegro
, conceived for horn, lies easily on the ears and flexibly on either cello or bassoon, and both have been recorded numerous times, none better than here.
, op. 73, also seems more easily adapted than the op. 94, maybe because of the clarinet’s smoother sound that fits range-wise into the broader and lower sound ranges of either of the baritone instruments.
Two of the pieces here, one on each disc, are specially arranged for the occasion. Isserlis tears into the Third Violin Sonata with a passion and commitment that you rarely hear from a violinist. This hybrid and haunted piece, put together to form the work that Schumann suggested with contributions from himself, Albert Dietrich, and Brahms (his “F.A.E. Sonata”), was eventually taken over completely by Schumann, who fashioned his own sonata (he had created two of the four movements). It was his last work and it is a barnburner, passionate and gloriously romantic. Isserlis does it fine credit, and this work alone would be worth the price of the disc.
Rácz has his own arrangement, this time of the wonderfully evocative
, and I launched into a listening session with some trepidation; I love this piece dearly, and the idea of inserting a bassoon playing one of the parts seemed impracticable, and hardly respectful of the original. To my delight, it is not bad at all, though my preferred listening will always be the piano original.
So we have a fine collection of miscellaneous Schumann played by two highly exceptional musicians, ably accompanied by partners of equal worth. If you do not have any of these works, I probably would suggest that you first acquire the original versions. Let me encourage acquisition of an album from 1996 on the Ars Musici label by the Ensemble Aventure. It has the op. 94 oboe
Romances, Folk Style Pieces
, horn piece, and op. 73
, plus a spectacular arrangement of the op. 44 Piano Quintet for piano and winds. Only the
Folk Style Pieces
are given on bassoon instead of cello. This plus one or either of these present discs should set you in good stead. The Rácz album has excellent surround sound, though I find it hard to choose between the two, slightly preferring, as I said, the bassoon disc. What the heck—get them both!
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
Works on This Recording
Romances (3) for Oboe and Piano, Op. 94 by Robert Schumann
Dénes Várjon (Piano),
Steven Isserlis (Cello)
Written: 1849; Germany
Date of Recording: 06/2008
Venue: Henry Wood Hall, London
Featured Sound Samples
Phantasiestücke for Clarinet and Piano: No 3: Rasch und mit Feuer
Romances for Oboe and Piano: No 1: Nicht schnell
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