North East Post
A Voice of the Free Press
Mike Tilling
Arts Correspondent
1:00 AM 5th March 2024

Classical Music: The Music Of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, And Johannes Brahms

Romance and Counterpoint: The Music of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, and Johannes Brahms

R. Schumann Symphony No.4 in D minor, Op.120; C. Schumann Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op.22 (performed by Yosuke Kawasaki & Angela Hewitt); Three Romances for Piano, Op.11 (performed by Stewart Goodyear); Romance in B minor (performed by Stewart Goodyear); Three Fugues on Themes of Sebastian Bach, Prelude and Fugue in F-sharp minor; Three
Preludes and Fugues, Op.16
(performed by Stewart Goodyear); Brahms Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98; Goodyear Improvisations on themes of Clara Schumann (performed by Stewart Goodyear)

Alexander Shelley conductor
Stewart Goodyear piano, Yosuke Kawasaki violin, Angela Hewitt piano
Canada National Arts Centre Orchestra

Analekta AN 2 8884-5

Occasionally, you have to face up to your own shortcomings. I recently had an argument in a pub with someone who thought Clara was Robert Schumann's sister. Big mistake. To her credit, she eventually agreed that Clara was Robert’s wife and that it was her father who had made life difficult. My own weakness in Schumann lore was thinking of Robert exclusively as a writer of lieder, not as a symphonist. Yet, here I am listening to his fourth.

Brahms, on the other hand, I have known since my later teens, when I also became addicted to Beethoven. Yes, I am a bit of a groupie for German Romanticism.

Of course, one (but only one) of the intriguing elements of pairing the Schumanns and Brahms is the fascinating personal history. Brahms fell more and more in love with Clara as Robert declined further and further into insanity. Yet Brahms suppressed his love for Clara. After Robert died in 1856, it seemed likely that the two would marry, yet Brahms chose to concentrate on his career and set off on conducting tours. Of course, all the intrigue surrounding their relationship would be of little consequence if they were not also hugely famous for their music. Prurient interest in the famous is not confined to our own times.

I must also admit I had never come across the publishers of this CD, Analekta, nor had I encountered the Canada National Arts Centre Orchestra (conductor Alexander Shelley), and this is their conclusion to an exploration of the music of these three. Where have I been?

The most obvious comparison being drawn is the mature work of Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms: their respective Fourth Symphonies. Are there any conclusions to be drawn from such paralleling?

Given the abstract nature of the symphony form, comparisons may be trivial (e.g., both pieces work towards a triumphant conclusion), but what I think does emerge is the pacing of the two works and the immediate kerb appeal of Brahms. His serene opening on the strings leads on to exuberance in the Third Movement and to severity in the Fourth. It is a very satisfying package.

Robert is much more reserved about giving us too much too soon. He does not opt for hummable tunes in the way that Brahms does; however, the Second Movement has just as much melody as the Brahms.

Apart from these two, the rest of this two-CD set is dedicated to Clara Schumann. Her pieces are miniatures by comparison and somewhat neglected, but what a musical intelligence they show. Reputedly the finest pianist of her generation, it takes the likes of Angela Hewitt and Steven Goodyear to render Clara’s compositions for our own times. Perhaps the most appealing is Three Fugues on a Theme by J.S. Bach. There are also the Three Romances for violin (Yosuka Kawasaki) and piano (Goodyear). Plenty of variety, then.

The sympathetic nature of the playing and the quality of the recording would make this CD a very attractive proposition for anyone’s collection. With the Schumann Four and the less well-known piano pieces by Clara, it has also been an educational experience for me.