Notes and Editorial Reviews
5 Stücke in Volkston,
Adagio and Allegro,
Suite No. 3 in C for Cello and Piano,
Martin Ostertag (vc); Kalle Randalu (pn)
304 1648-2 (70:30)
"Acquiring the complete chamber music compositions of Schumann for cello is a task at once both simple and daunting. The main problem arises from the difficulty in defining “complete.” Schumann—with an eye toward maximizing his income, among other aims—prepared or authorized multiple arrangements of many of his chamber works for various instruments, and thus inspired others to make further adaptations as well. The op. 102
Fünf Stücke in Volkston
is his only work originally scored for cello; the op. 70
Adagio and Allegro
is originally for horn, the op. 73
for clarinet, and op. 113
for viola. Among Schumann’s other chamber works not included here, the ones most often encountered in an arrangement for cello are the three Romances, op. 94, originally scored for oboe. The versions of the opp. 70 and 73 presented here are due to title-page designations as authorized alternatives by Schumann’s publisher, Carl Luckhardt of Kassel; that for the op. 113 is by cellist Martin Ostertag for this recording.
What has surely raised readers’ eyebrows in curiosity here, however, is Schumann’s adaptation of J. S. Bach’s Solo Cello Suite No. 3 with added piano accompaniment, using the edition prepared by cellist Johann Friedrich Dotzauer (1783–1860) and published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1826. Musicologist Joachim Draheim, the author of the booklet notes, discovered a copy of the arrangement made by cellist Julius Goltermann (1825–76) in 1863. Schumann is known to have written such accompaniments for all six Bach cello suites, but it is believed that his widow, Clara, and Joseph Joachim destroyed them sometime after 1860, when an offer by publisher Julius Schuberth of Hamburg to issue them was rejected.
This is not the first recording of the Bach-Schumann hybrid; a previous version appeared on Hänssler Classics with cellist Peter Bruhns and pianist Roglit Ishay in 2004, and was reviewed by Jerry Dubins in
27: 4. That release also included the opp. 70, 73, and 102 pieces, plus Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, also adapted for cello. Jerry approved of those performances, noting a personal complaint about “too much grit or abrasiveness in bow contact with the strings” but asking that readers “immediately and permanently forget about it, for it is strictly a matter of personal taste.” Of the Bach-Schumann arrangement, Jerry also stated: “To be honest, it doesn’t do much for me, nor I think for Bach.” I agree completely; the piece is a musical duckbilled platypus, an extreme oddity of sustained interest only to 19th-century musicologists. However, I would urge Jerry (and others) to give this recording a hearing, as both cellist Ostertag and his pianist, Kalle Randalu, are to my mind noticeably superior in both tone quality and interpretive expressiveness to Bruhns and Ishay. Ostertag has a lovely oaken tone, smooth as silk, with supple phrasing and dynamic shading; Randalu—who has recorded the complete piano sonatas of Hindemith—provides fully sympathetic support. The recorded sound is rich and spacious, with a touch of reverberance; the booklet notes are first-rate. If this repertoire, particularly the arrangement of the Bach, interests you, then you will definitely want to acquire this."
FANFARE: James A. Altena
It was while Schumann was studying the piano with Frederich Wieke that he injured his right hand, making a career as a pianist impossible. The instrument that he took up at that stage was the cello. That experience stood him in good stead when writing the Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129, and the works on this disc. These comprise the Fünf Stücke im Volkston, the cello versions of the Adagio and Allegro and the Fantasiestücke, and an arrangement for cello of the Märchenbilder, which was originally written for viola. One of Schumann’s arrangements of the Bach Suites for unaccompanied cello, for which he provided a piano accompaniment, rounds off the disc.
Fünf Stücke im Volkston (Five pieces in folk style) is Schumann’s sole surviving composition for cello and piano. The other works on this disc are either the cello versions of works which could be played on several instruments, or, in the case of the Märchenbilder, an arrangement by Martin Ostertag.) Ostertag and Randalu take a fairly gentle approach to the first movement; the interplay is sensitive, but I felt that they could have adopted a more earthy style. The middle movements display Ostertag’s fine legato playing, with smooth chords. There is some fine dynamic shaping, particularly in the minor episode of the second movement. The last movement is played more
alla rustica, which suits the character of the music. The Adagio and Allegro begins in similar fashion, with attractive lyrical playing from Ostertag; the Allegro is more assertive with the fast bowing precisely done.
The opening of the Fantasiestücke (Fantasy pieces) is taken at quite a deliberate tempo. The dynamic shaping is beautifully carried off, but the piece could use a little more fantasy. The middle movement is more animated; Randalu’s accompaniment has an attractive silvery tone. The finale is played with vigor and sensitivity, and Ostertag leans on the accents to give some extra character.
The Märchenbilder had been arranged for cello in the nineteenth century by the cello virtuosi Piatti and Hausmann, but the arrangement here is by Martin Ostertag.
The performance features delicate interplay between the duo partners, with the phrases being carefully shaped. Ostertag’s double-stopping in the second movement has a martial character. These pieces all display fine chamber music playing, with Randalu providing discreet support throughout.
Rostropovich made a celebrated recording of the Fünf Stücke im Volkston in 1968, with Benjamin Britten. Rostropovich gives his usual larger than life performance, in notably more vigorous style than Ostertag. However Rostropovich/Britten take almost three minutes longer overall, the difference being mostly in the third movement, which certainly lives up to its marking of
Nicht schnell. Jacqueline du Pré’s recording of the Fantasiestücke with Daniel Barenboim finds her at her most expressive, and her reading has the freedom and fantasy that I felt a little lacking from the present performance. However she is more backwards in the balance than Ostertag, and Barenboim’s accompaniment is on the narcissistic side when set beside Randalu’s subtle contribution.
The disc concludes with Schumann’s arrangement for cello and piano of J.S. Bach’s Suite no. 3 for unaccompanied cello. Schumann’s piano part is unobtrusive, mainly reinforcing the cello and not competing with it. This arrangement is obviously a relic of a previous era in performance practice, when it was felt necessary to adapt Baroque music to contemporary tastes, and is interesting for that reason. Ostertag shows that he is a fine Bach player; he keeps his bow light for the most part, and his phrasing is not too legato.
MDG has a philosophy of producing recordings in the acoustics of specially chosen concert halls, without the use of reverberation, filters or limiters. The recording certainly has a natural balance, and an attractive warmth that does not sound at all artificial.
-- Guy Aron, MusicWeb International
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