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Schumann: Chamber Music

Schumann / Tuckwell / Rostropovich / Holliger
Release Date: 04/16/2013 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4803610   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUMANN Andante and Variations, Op. 46 1 . Study in Canon Form , Op 56/4 2. Adagio and Allegro , Op. 70 3. Drei Romanzen , Op. 94 4. Abendlied. Op. 85/12 5. Fantasiestücke, Read more Op. 73 6. Fünf Stücke im Volkston , Op. 102 7 1,2,3,6 Vladimir Ashkenazy (pn); 1,2 Malcolm Frager (pn); 4,5 Alfred Brendel (pn); 7 Benjamin Britten (pn); 1 Amaryllis Fleming (vc); 1 Terence Weil (vc); 7 Mstislav Rostropovich (vc); 1,3 Barry Tuckwell (hn); 4,5 Heinz Holliger (ob); 6 Franklin Cohen (cl) DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 3610 (77:38)

Not only does this generously filled compilation of Schumann chamber-music reissues contain superior performances, the music is ordered in a nicely flowing sequence. The program opens with the amiable, meandering, but not insubstantial Andante and Variations in its original version for two pianos, two cellos, and horn, in an elegant performance by the young Vladimir Ashkenzay and the underrated Malcolm Frager. Schumann later removed the sketchy instrumental parts in an alternate version of the piece for pianos alone. The two pianists are also heard in the fourth of six Studies in Canon Form, op. 56, originally composed for “pedal piano,” a work of high quality that Debussy arranged for two pianos. Their excellent performance makes me sorry that Ashkenazy and Frager didn’t record the other five studies. The formidable horn virtuoso Barry Tuckwell is superb in the Adagio and Allegro , together with Ashkenazy.

From a Philips recording by Alfred Brendel and Heinz Holliger, Schumann’s one original work for oboe, the melancholy Romanzen , op. 94, receives a flexibly phrased, songful performance. Holliger’s piercing tone is controversial among oboists and doesn’t appeal to everyone, including me, but his musicianship is of the highest order. Brendel is a responsive partner, as is Ashkenazy in the original, clarinet version of the op. 73 Fantasiestücke in which the Cleveland Symphony’s Franklin Cohen gives a very refined, standard interpretation.

Decca saves the best for last: Mstislav Rostropovich and Benjamin Britten’s classic performance of the Fünf Stücke im Volkston . Rostropovich brings the larger than life personality of his cello playing to bear on each piece, fully demonstrating the character of each, aided by Britten’s vital, urgent piano playing. Schumann’s melding of folk influences, Lieder style, and cello virtuosity makes these melodically inspired pieces a high point among his late chamber works, and I know of no finer recording of them. (I hold a similarly high opinion of all of the Rostropovich/Britten Decca performances—sonatas by Schubert, Debussy, and Britten—reference recordings all). Decca’s sound in all of these performances, which range chronologically from 1961 Fünf Stücke to 1990 Fantasiestücke, is clear and superior to that of a recent Indésens disc containing much of the same music that I recommended in 36:4.

FANFARE: Paul Orgel
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