Discovering Masterpieces of Classical Music = SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor

by | Feb 28, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Discovering Masterpieces of Classical Music = SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor

Documentary and Performance
Performers: Martha Argerich, piano/Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig/
Riccardo Chailly cond.
Studio: EuroArts DVD 2056068 (Distrib. Naxos) 
Video: Enhanced for 16:9; color
Audio: Stereo PCM
Length: 28 mins. (Documentary); 35 mins. (Performance)
Rating: ****:

Here is a unique approach to classical music-appreciation, a kind of musical etiology of Schumann’s familiar Piano Concerto (1841-1845), in words–written by Martin Feil–and pictures, along with musical examples provided by both music historian Wulf Konold of the Nuremberg Opera and excerpts from the full performance attached to the documentary.

The story of the Concerto will be accessible to most connoisseurs: originally, Schumann conceived the piece as a self-contained, one-movement Phantasie for piano and orchestra, a konzertstuecke which belied the usual virtuoso fare sported by Mendelssohn, Hummel, and Moscheles. Schumann used anagrammatical notes that corresponded to his pet name for Clara Wieck, the C-C-B-B-A pattern that approached the endearment “Chiarina” or “Chiara.” Along with the colors of the keyboard, Schumann exploited the color of his woodwind instruments, and provided them with echo materials for the piano as well as an occasional tutti of some power.  Adding an Intermezzo–a combination Scherzino and Romance–and later a Finale: Allegro vivace, the piece assumed the shape of a concerto, the last two movements connected to what was really a monothematic first movement.

We have period sketches and photographs of Schumann and Clara, her father Wieck, and sections of the concerto as they are realized by Martha Argerich and Riccardo Chailly.  Commentator Wulf sits at a keyboard but does not perform; he adds historical context and some musicological materials.  We can feel the close connection of the piano and orchestral tissue, such as the fact that the solo enters explosively immediately, providing the lyrical impulse that dominates the first movement.

As for the performance (1-2 June 2006), this is vintage Argerich, cleanly defined, intense, focused, and thoroughly idiomatic in a concerto she knows well. The camera takes in the downbeat from Chailly, the oboe solo, and Argerich’s hands, then weaving back and forth from keyboard to first violin. Curiously, no one notes in the documentary that Schumann achieves his ‘classicism’ by repeating all developmental motifs twice, a procedure imitated by Tchaikovsky in his B-flat Minor Concerto. Nice trumpet work in the fist big orchestral tutti. Argerich enters with the nocturnal theme, Schumann’s attempt to consolidate the three-movement structure into one continuous flow. The period ends, and Argerich thrusts the music forward with riffs Grieg will find attractive. The recap is more intimate than the exposition, and the strings seem to pay particular attention to dynamic details. The cadenza is knotty and virtuosic, laden with stretti from the main themes which Argerich delivers aggressively with a huge trill, sending us into the scherzando coda.

A pleased Chailly invokes the Intermezzo, skittish figures in antiphon between solo and orchestra. Chailly can emote in the broad string theme, the Gewandhaus strings in vibrant form, while Argerich keeps her part transparent. Pedal point leads to the swaggering Finale, each cadence hard and decisive, Argerich glittering. Here the writing is clearly in the bravura mold, and even the orchestra enjoys a virtuoso fughetta. Nice cut from Argerich to French horn prior. The fluent love affair between oboe and piano continues.  The tympani has several strong rolls prior to the last modulation to the closing thematic group. The flute urges Argerich along to alternately declamatory and lyric energies, the momentum never relaxing for a moment, the peroration massive and graceful at once.  The full house liked it, too.

— Gary Lemco


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