Clara & Robert Schumann Piano Concertos. © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited

CD Spotlight

In a Class of its Own

Recordings of Clara and Robert Schumann's piano concertos impress GERALD FENECH

'Beatrice Rana's magical playing is complimented by incisive support from Yannick Nézet-Séguin and his Chamber Orchestra of Europe ...'


Clara Wieck (1819-1896), a female musical prodigy and Robert Schumann (1810-1856), a male composer, fought for their love, doing anything up to and including suing the woman's father. It sounds like something straight from a novel, but for Clara and Robert Schumann this was their life. As a child, Clara suffered greatly from the separation of her parents. Indeed, when the girl was only five, the mother divorced her husband and never came back. Her father Friedrich was her first piano teacher. The training was rigorous but it paid off. Clara made her public debut in 1828 in Leipzig when only nine years old.

At a second concert in the same city Robert was among the audience and was highly impressed by Clara's playing. At the time he was studying law, but this experience made him change his mind, and he started taking music lessons with Clara's father. At this stage he was not totally sure what he really wanted to do. Law or Music? Thankfully, the latter's allure was too strong, and in 1830 Robert gave himself body and soul to becoming a musician of distinction. Unfortunately, a self-inflicted injury on his hand when in his early twenties ended his career as a pianist. Undeterred, he took up a compositional career with immense enthusiasm, and this gave him the opportunity to spend more time studying with Clara's father.

By time Robert developed a tender affection for the now fifteen-year old girl. Over the next years their feelings for each other grew, and in 1837 Robert proposed to the now eighteen-year old Clara. She ecstatically agreed, but her father disapproved. The couple were determined to marry, and indeed they did, but not until after a three-year legal battle with Clara's father. Robert and Clara tied the knot in September 1840. Happily married - they had eight children - Clara taught piano and went on concert tours, while Robert kept composing.

Tragically, Robert suffered from a severe mental illness which caused the family great hardships and anxiety. Eventually, he died in 1856 aged only forty-six. After Robert's death, Clara continued to champion her husband's music until her death in 1896 aged seventy-six, forty years after Robert's demise.

This issue is in a class of its own, both spiritually and artistically. Pairing both piano concertos (both in A minor) of husband and wife does not only give one the chance to appreciate the musical gifts of both, but also makes of this CD an eternal bond of a love that triumphed over great adversity to leave for posterity a testament of the indomitable spirit of man that is unconquerable till the very end.

Clara's piece predates Robert's by ten years; sixteen-year old Clara premiered it in Leipzig in 1835 with Mendelssohn conducting, and it was a huge success.

Listen — Clara Schumann: Romanze (Piano Concerto in A minor)
(5054197296253 track 2, 0:00-0:55) ℗ 2023 Parlophone Records Limited :

Robert's concerto is too famous, so I do not think I need to comment about it. All one can add is that it was premiered in Dresden in 1845, and the soloist was ... Clara Schumann, who else?

Listen — Robert Schumann: Intermezzo (Piano Concerto in A minor)
(5054197296253 track 5, 0:00-0:51) ℗ 2023 Parlophone Records Limited :

Beatrice Rana's magical playing is complimented by incisive support from Yannick Nézet-Séguin and his Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and the programme is further enhanced by a Franz Liszt transcription for solo piano of Robert's song Widmung, an exuberant dedication of love composed in the year of the couple's marriage.

Listen — Robert Schumann, arr Liszt: Widmung
(5054197296253 track 7, 3:09-4:04) ℗ 2023 Parlophone Records Limited :

This is maybe the disc of the year, in superb sound and presentation.

Copyright © 7 April 2023 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta



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