Friday, April 02, 2010

Sunday Classics preview: Schumann -- most romantic of the Romantics?


The funeral march movement of Schumann's Piano Quintet played by pianist Hélène Grimaud, violinists Renaud Capuçon and Sayaka Shoji, violist Lars Anders Tomter, and cellist Mischa Maisky at the 2007 Verbier Festival

by Ken

It's all too common that a dramatically unfortunate end to a life overshadows the way we remember a person, and it's hard to forget that poor Robert Schumann ended his insane. It's an especially horrible end for such a remarkable mind, but fortunately that mind produced a body of work as composer, performer, journalist and critic, and musical patron that he remains ineradicably one of music's great forces.

And when I think of Romantic composers, I probably think first and foremost of Schumann.

In his liner notes for the Biddulph reissue of the 1927 recording of the Schumann Piano Quintet by the great pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch and the great Flonzaley Quartet (to the Romantic manner born), Tully Potter describes the piece as "perhaps Schumann's finest composition," and I think these first two movements will make clear why. We're going to hear the whole quintet Sunday in more or less modern recordings. Tonight we hear just the first two movements, in two historical recordings.

The opening movement is an extroverted burst of energy and enthusiasm not quite like anything else I know in music, and it gives way to a focused, haunting funeral march (well, Schumann just says "in the mode of a march," but is there any question what kind of march it is?) with its "agitated" central section.

SCHUMANN: Piano Quintet in E-flat, Op. 44:
i. Allegro brillante
ii. In modo d'una marcia: Un poco largamente; Agitato

Ossip Gabrilowitsch, piano; Flonzaley Quartet (Adolfo Betti and Alfred Pochon, violins; Nicolas Moldavan, viola; Iwan d'Archambeau, cello). RCA/Biddulph, recorded Dec. 1, 1927

Jesús-María Sanromá, piano; Primrose Quartet (Oscar Shumsky and Josef Gingold, violins; William Primrose, viola; Harvey Shapiro, cello). RCA/Biddulph, recorded March 4, 1940

The short-lived Primrose Quartet was a starry ensemble formed out of the ranks of the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1938 (and so-named by NBC officialdom, on the theory that violist Primrose was the most famous of the musicians -- he seems to have been somewhat uncomfortable with the unconventional naming) with an ambitious recording program that was aborted by the wartime U.S. recording ban, which seems also to have aborted the quartet itself.


As we approach our Sunday glance at Schumann's output, we take a quick look at its two largest components: the piano works and the songs.


The current list is here.

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At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Thanks Keni!

So far these are flashing me back to the few high school recitals that I was dragged to.


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