Notes and Editorial Reviews
Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann.
Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann
Claire Désert (pn)
MIRARE MIR 115 (65:00)
The gifted French pianist Claire Désert is known equally as a fine chamber musician and a memorable Schumann interpreter. Her recordings of Schumann’s
are among the best accounts of these works, graceful, colorful, and mercurial. She brings the same qualities to this new disc devoted to the musical and personal connections of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, and Johannes Brahms. The
(usually translated as Colorful Leaves) consists of 14 brief pieces that Schumann salvaged from his early days as a composer. I can easily imagine some of them being conceived as part of
, for example. The first piece is a beautiful and touching page that was originally inscribed, “A wish for my beloved fiancée on Christmas Eve 1838.” The five
that follow form a lovely set, with well-contrasted rhythms and daring harmonies. The first of these, just 24 bars in F?-Minor, is slow and tender—and it became the theme of Clara’s Variations, op. 20, as well as Brahms’s op. 9. Clara’s work, dedicated to Schumann, was composed in 1853 and Brahms’s, dedicated to her, was written a few months later, after Schumann was confined to an asylum. The special relationships among Schumann, Clara, and Brahms during this brief period are eloquently caught in these pieces, which Désert plays with admirable directness. Clara’s seven variations contain interesting harmonic twists, elegant figurations, and humor as well as passion. It is an impressive piece that lasts about 11 minutes, one of her final compositions before settling down to a life as touring virtuosa and family breadwinner.
Brahms’s set was his first piano work to be finished after meeting Schumann. It contains much ingenious writing, including canons, inversions, and a quote from Schumann’s op. 5 hidden in an inner voice. Much of the writing is Schumannesque, and the mood of the ending is much like that of the
Garrick Ohlsson and Oleg Marshev have recently given us fine accounts of this work, but Désert’s is fully equal to theirs. Her imaginative and understated playing really grows on one, and the sound is appropriately warm and natural, welcoming one into a special world and a special moment in time.
FANFARE: Charles Timbrell
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