Notes and Editorial Reviews
Philippe Herreweghe directs these Schumann concertos with severity and urgency, with an impact that's particularly strong in the opening movement of the A minor piano concerto. The soloist is Andreas Staier, who plays a mid-19th century J.B. Streicher instrument. But it's not just the use of period instruments (this is certainly the kind of piano Schumann would have known) that proves so fascinating here; rather, it's the minutely detailed way in which soloist and conductor interact during this performance. Note, for instance, how astutely Herreweghe's wind players articulate the sorrowful first subject group after the soloist's opening salvo, a passage that sets the tone for all that follows. Dotted notes are exactly in time, neither clipped nor deliberately extended and fussed over. And dots or lines added above rising note-groups also are correctly observed, so the first movement's main theme isn't made to sound ponderous, but rather lithe and mobile, with a character more varied than we usually hear.
Staier plays the solo part impressively (the big cadenza in the first movement is superb), and the fact that he often seems to be struggling to produce sufficient weight of tone, even against the relatively small orchestral forces, isn't necessarily a drawback, but rather a vindication of the novel approach taken here. Schumann wouldn't have expected to hear the piano coming through as powerfully as we're used to in dialogue sections with orchestra anyway. And in the slow movement, it's the delicacy and lightness that impress, with vibrato-less cellos sounding miraculously clear in their big melody, and Staier's interjections heightening the chamber-like effect achieved in this intermezzo before a jubilantly agile finale. It's a very fine performance indeed, brimming over with unexpected points of detail too numerous to describe here. If you're keen to hear the Schumann concerto in a setting that can't be too far removed from what the composer envisioned, this will satisfy very well, and it's a huge advance on the Newport Classic account from Thomas Lorango with the New Brandenburg Collegium.
Christophe Coin's version of the A minor cello concerto is a performance of stirring endeavour, but here you'll probably miss the fuller sonority of a modern instrument far more than in the piano concerto. Still, if you're interested in experiencing both works in an unfamiliar setting, this beautifully engineered disc is worth hearing. For strongly characterized and secure conventional versions of these works, try Sony's highly recommendable identical coupling with Murray Perahia, Yo-Yo Ma, and the Bavarian RSO under Colin Davis. This has just been reissued at mid-price, making an interesting foil to the above Harmonia Mundi disc.
--Michael Jameson, ClassicsToday.com