Notes and Editorial Reviews
Known for her lush and generous playing, Downes brings her customary warmth to bear as concerto soloist. Equally rivalling the orchestra’s might, she appears to revel in the quintessentially Romantic currents, inspired as they ebb and flow through the only concerto Schumann ever finished for the instrument. At times, Downes’ tonal command borders on a pianistic muscularity – an attractive commingling of classical training with a popularized understanding of music’s communicative shtick in the 21st century. She urges the listener to feel at ease: to embrace the brand of hospitality issued from her keyboard.
“When I was growing up, I first learned about Clara from reading about Robert Schumann,” the
pianist Lara Downes said in an interview. As a teenage virtuoso, Ms. Downes determined to track down and play Clara’s music, which she went on to do.
"That was considered unusual at the time, in the mid-1990s. On her new album, “For Love of You,” which intertwines music by Clara and Robert Schumann, she again explores her early fascination, only now she finds herself bringing it before a wider audience.
"In her account of Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto, she wanted to elicit a sense of Clara’s “presence as a pianist, as the embodiment of his work.” Ms. Downes points out that in other pieces, Robert explicitly incorporated phrases of Clara’s music as a private code they shared.
-- New York Times
"...The pianist offers respectful, impassioned performances of works by Clara amid more familiar music by her husband Robert.
The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra conducted by Martin West supports Downes in a crisp reading of Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, written at Clara’s urging to highlight her own prodigious skill. Downes finds complex shades of meaning in the pianistic waterfalls of the dynamic first movement (“Allegro affetuoso”), delineating every phrase and note as if it were a jewel while always sustaining the music’s momentum and flow. The graceful second movement (“Intermezzo: Andantino grazioso”) is Robert at the peak of his small-scale charm, a snow globe of a world in five-plus minutes. "Downes takes just the right low-key approach, letting the music speak for itself.
The final movement’s “Allegro Vivace” high spirits can be a bit much for me, but Downes and West take a careful, unhurried approach that suits it well. A wise synthesis of delicacy and assertiveness makes the piano runs sing, the orchestral passages shine sunnily, and the whole a dance celebrating one of music’s great collaborations."
"Though she has been performing and recording for a while now I first became aware of Lara Downes when I reviewed her truly excellent, America Again album in 2016. Since then I have become aware of the incredible range of music which she has chosen to champion. Her various projects have a distinctive Lara Downes fingerprint which establishes her brand in the music world. She plays music from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries with careful attention to women composers, minority composers, and a solid grounding in the more commonly heard recital works.
"I jumped at the opportunity to see her play at the “Old First Concerts” in San Francisco later in 2016. She played a friendly recital of mostly familiar classical works including the solo version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and some Schumann pieces and a couple of selections from the just released America Again album. Having taken some piano lessons I have a bit of awareness of how difficult this music can be but, as the title of my concert review suggested, Downes elevates the music such that it magically comes alive in ways that fledgling or average pianists can only dream. The notes are the same but she makes them sing and watching her play is reminiscent of an Olympic athlete. Don’t stand too close, lol.
"It is her love of the 19th century romantic piano literature and her mission to highlight female artists that are the motivation behind this recent release. Clara Schumann turned 200 years old in September, 2019 and this release is a gift to her and an affirmation of a musical romance of grand romantic dimensions. The album features Schumann’s masterful Concerto as well as a selection of solo pieces by Clara and Robert...
"...This beautifully recorded disc (at Skywalker Ranch’s fine studios) opens grandly with a rendition of Schumann’s grand showpiece piano concerto which was written at the behest of Clara and dedicated to her. She performs with the venerable San Francisco Ballet Orchestra under music director Martin West. I don’t know other versions of this concerto well enough to make comparisons but it is clearly a piece she knows and loves and the concerto is a tribute to both Robert and Clara. Her encouragement and collaborative suggestions technically make the piece speak well for both composers (Robert, who was an accomplished pianist, damaged his hand utilizing a mechanical stretching device and couldn’t play well anymore).
"She follows this with some early solo piano pieces by Clara Schumann and a set of early works by Robert. The style and level of compositional expertise is similar in both of their writing and Downes brings them lovingly, magically to life. One only hopes that this will be but the first volume of more recordings of Clara’s work. According to her website she has some mighty fascinating projects planned for completion in 2020, designated as “The Year of the Woman”, the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in this country.
"As it is also an election year seeing more women than ever before in politics, literature, and music 2020 can’t avoid being an auspicious event and Downes will make her mark most decisively. Meanwhile we can enjoy this first installment in anticipation of exciting developments and releases ahead. Brava, Ms. Downes. We’re watching and listening."
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano in A minor, Op. 54 by Robert Schumann
Lara Downes (Piano)
San Francisco Ballet Orchestra
Written: 1841-1845; Germany
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