Notes and Editorial Reviews
At first, I was taken aback by this release. Why bother transcribing six of Schumann’s brilliant and highly affecting Lieder for clarinet and piano—works that took Schubert’s Lieder to a new level and that led both to Brahms’s and Wolf’s subsequent achievements?. After all, I learned these Schumann songs from the likes of Dietrich-Fischer Dieskau and Ellie Ameling among others. Whatever my first skepticism, these transcriptions proved not only eloquently successful but illuminating as well, especially in Du, meine Seele, a song that never fails to melt my empirically hard-headedness.
Schumann, despite his firm entrenchment in our standard repertoire, is extremely fragile. His music has to be reached as much through the heart
as through the mind. Given an imbalance between them, he falls apart. In his symphonic orb, Arturo Toscanini and his disciple George Szell present one extreme; Hans Knappertsbusch and Wilhelm Furtwängler, the other (egad, I’m showing my age!). Fall outside of those parameters, and Schumann becomes a rather weak-kneed precursor of Brahms. I hold all modern practitioners to that standard, because I have come to regard Schumann as one of the purest of early German Romantic voices—at once outwardly reserved and inwardly passionate, and one who used his musical resources with utmost directness. These qualities are particularly evident in Karl-Heinz Steffens’s and Karina Wisniewska’s transcribed performances of only two of the Fünf Stücke im Volkston, op. 102, for cello and piano—pieces I had originally learned from the ancient Casals/Mannes mono era recording (my copy is on the CBS Odyssey label). Many recordings later, it still serves as my touchstone. This performance approaches it. My only complaint is that Steffens/Wisniewska recorded only two of the five pieces. Given the short playing time of this CD, the remaining three could easily have been accommodated.
Throughout this offering, Steffens is suberb. Given his purity of tone, his ability to vary its color mid-breath, the plasticity of his phrasing, and his subtle dynamic shadings, his clarinet becomes a surrogate human voice, and a particularly haunting one at that. Also of merit are Karina Wisniewska’s accompaniments. In the transcriptions of the six Lieder, they are particularly deft. In the Romanze No. 2, op. 28 (originally for two pianos, but here effectively reduced to a single instrument), and in the youthful Fantasie for Piano, op. 17, where, I’m sorry to say, only the third movement is given, she proves to be a Schumann interpreter of the first rank.
Alas, no one is credited for having made these transcriptions. I am assuming that they were made by Steffens, but, lacking any solid documentation, I left the headnote ambivalent on the matter. The sound is in all respects, excellent. If only they had let us remain in Schumann’s magical world a bit longer.
-- William Zagorski, Fanfare
Works on This Recording
Myrthen, Op. 25: no 1, Widmung by Robert Schumann
Karl-Heinz Steffens (Clarinet),
Karina Wisniewska (Piano)
Written: 1840; Germany
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