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Schumann: Piano Works & Chamber Music Vol 9 / Eric Le Sage

Schumann / Le Sage / Nikolitch / Coin / Meyer
Release Date: 05/11/2010 
Label:  Alpha Productions   Catalog #: 158   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Robert Schumann
Performer:  Eric Le SageGordan NikolicChristophe CoinPaul Meyer
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 3 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUMANN Piano Trios: No. 1; No. 2; No. 3. Fantasy Pieces, op. 88. 6 Pieces in Canon Form, op. 56 1 Eric Le Sage (pn); Gordan Nicolitch (vn); Christophe Coin (vc); 1 Paul Meyer (cl) ALPHA 158 (2 CDs: 122:56)

Schumann’s 24 chamber works are some of the foundational pieces of the Romantic era literature. Read more True to form, he tended to compose in spurts and in one uniform genre, particularly after he got his sea legs during his piano phase in the first 10 years of his creative life. The year 1842 marked his foray into serious chamber music, though even here he took time to shed the extra-musical and often literary associations that so accompanied the keyboard pieces. One of the first chamber excursions was a piano trio, cast in four movements with German character designations, similar to his op. 12 piano music. Wife Clara and friend Felix Mendelssohn both thought the work too far-fetched at the time, and encouraged him to look in another direction, at least for the time being. The result of this pressure was that the work got shelved for another seven years, and only on October 26, 1849, the day the composer learned of Chopin’s death, was the music revealed in its new form as the op. 88 Fantasy Pieces , dedicated to the mother of one of Clara’s students. Though relatively short, the work is guised in intense, concentrated melody far more typical of 1842 than 1849, and reminiscent of the descriptive piano music.

It wasn’t until the Schumanns were in Dresden in 1847 that Robert turned his thoughts again to the trio form, and this time the impetus was multiply manifest; the composer’s health, after a three-year downturn, suddenly improved and Robert found himself feeling the sunshine again. Also, Mendelssohn had written his two extraordinary piano trios, which Schumann felt defined the form, and Clara herself had produced a not-too-shabby effort in 1846 for their sixth wedding anniversary, and even Fanny Mendelssohn joined the fray the same year with a fine D-Minor work. With all of these trios hovering about, Robert, who looked to the form as perhaps his first serious jump into chamber music, returned again with a vengeance. That very spring both Fanny and Felix died, an immense tragedy for the Schumanns, yet Robert was able to complete his op. 63 and immediately began work on the Second Trio, op. 80, though he had to put it aside because of some larger-scale commitments, of which Scenes from Goethe’s Faust and the opera Genoveva were two.

In 1849 he came back to the piece and was able to mount a successful premiere with Clara at the piano, Gewandhaus Orchestra concertmaster Ferdinand David, and cellist Julius Rietz—it must have been quite a concert, and the piece remains the most popular of Schumann’s piano trios, again dedicated to Clara and full of wonderful melody and impassioned writing, the book-ended outer movements glorying in their brilliant F Major, while inner movements, far removed in D?-Major and B?-Minor, make for a stunning contrast in their impressively moving sensibilities.

Schumann took a short break between his first two violin sonatas to return yet again to the trio form, this time its restlessness and subtlety combining to hide its strengths from the general public; it has not been as popular as the other two, though repeated listening confirms it as every bit as worthy. Even here this 1851 piece hearkens back to the piano music in many ways, especially the descriptive turns of phrase that Schumann felt so appropriate in his character pieces.

The Schumanns had a pedal device installed on one of their pianos in 1845 in order to practice and study the works of Bach. Three pieces emerged from this event that make use of the pedal piano, but for practicality’s sake were not to last unless rearranged. The Six Pieces in Canonic Form were arranged both by Clara and the young Claude Debussy for two pianos, and those arrangements work very well. But Theodore Kirchner also took a stab at them and fashioned a piano trio. Here on this disc Eric Le Sage decided to call upon old friend Paul Meyer and replace the violin part with that of clarinet, something Schumann would have applauded, I am sure. The work is gorgeous; its rather academic title probably steers some listeners away, but there is no Schumann that is finer, the conceptions not only studied and eloquent, but the music itself unique in its almost impressionistic beauty.

This is Volume 11 of Le Sage’s ongoing Schumann piano and chamber music series, something now approaching landmark status. The performances are superb in every way, not least the sound. Jerry Dubins really liked the Altenberg Trio on a Challenge release in Fanfare 27:6, a set that also includes the Kirchner arrangement of the studies as well; I have not heard it, but he is enthusiastic. My favorite has been the Beaux Arts Trio on Philips, which gets to the heart of this music. But I must say in all honesty that I think this new release catapults to the top of the heap; Le Sage and friends are really attuned to the Schumann spirit, and you will search high and low for a recording that can top them. Sincerely Want List potential here.

FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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Works on This Recording

Trio for Piano and Strings no 1 in D minor, Op. 63 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Eric Le Sage (Piano), Gordan Nikolic (Violin), Christophe Coin (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1847; Germany 
Date of Recording: 08/2009/11/2009 
Venue:  Salle Philharmonique de Liège 
Length: 32 Minutes 18 Secs. 
Trio for Piano and Strings no 2 in F major, Op. 80 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Christophe Coin (Cello), Eric Le Sage (Piano), Gordan Nikolic (Violin)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1847; Germany 
Date of Recording: 08/2009/11/2009 
Venue:  Salle Philharmonique de Liège 
Length: 26 Minutes 35 Secs. 
Trio for Piano and Strings no 3 in G minor, Op. 110 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Christophe Coin (Cello), Eric Le Sage (Piano), Gordan Nikolic (Violin)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; Germany 
Date of Recording: 08/2009/11/2009 
Venue:  Salle Philharmonique de Liège 
Length: 26 Minutes 50 Secs. 
Phantasiestücke for Piano, Violin and Cello, Op. 88 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Eric Le Sage (Piano), Christophe Coin (Cello), Gordan Nikolic (Violin)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1842; Germany 
Date of Recording: 08/2009/11/2009 
Venue:  Salle Philharmonique de Liège 
Length: 19 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Etudes (6) in Canon Form for Pedal Piano, Op. 56 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Eric Le Sage (Piano), Paul Meyer (Clarinet), Christophe Coin (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845; Germany 
Date of Recording: 08/2009/11/2009 
Venue:  Salle Philharmonique de Liège 
Length: 15 Minutes 42 Secs. 

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