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SCHUMANN: Violin Concerto in d minor; Piano Trio No. 3 in g minor, Op. 110 – Isabelle Faust, violin/ Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello, Alexander Melnikov, p./ Freiburger Barockorchester/ Pablo Heras-Casado – Harmonia mundi HMC 902196 CD + DVD (3/10/15), 61:37 ****:

Isabelle Faust and her associates have undertaken an extensive Schumann project, one that embraces the output of piano trios, while Harmonia mundi intends to address the three concertos by utilizing the Faust trio constitutuents.  The Schumann Violin Concerto of 1853 (rec. August-September 2014) has had few contemporary adherents – barring the two ‘historical’ violinists of the concerto’s lurid political history, Kulenkampff and Menuhin – among whom Szeryng, Bell, and Kremer dominate.  Typical of the late Schumann style, the music tends to conserve its dark, melodic elements and recycle them in assorted rhythmic arrangements.  The Langsam slow movement again proffers a Schumann intermezzo – the theme taken from the secondary motif in F from the first movement -in melodically transparent counterpoint that emerges in the form of a polonaise in the last movement.

It was Joseph Joachim, detecting what he felt to be spiritual fatigue in the Violin Concerto, who decided to suppress the score for one hundred years.  Conductor Heras-Casado, like Barbirolli and Dorati before him, finds much to energize his portion of the opening movement, a martial affair whose evolution remains rhapsodically motivic and sequential, rather than driven by sonata-form principles. The sonority of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra imposes an antique, even archaic, blend of Romantic longing and dry, severe restraint. Faust has no cadenza as such, but her presence brings a majesty and noble poise to the proceedings. A suave canter defines the Heras-Casado polonaise tempo of the last movement, certainly more elegant than the dance-rhythm realization that conductors Rother and Barbirolli brought to Kulenkampff and Menuhin, respectively.  Some auditors who cherish the Concerto in their own way will find this approach too precious, but the attempt to impose a layered gravitas upon the score makes for a jeweled performance.  The reduced orchestra certainly accentuates the clarity of Schumann’s harmonic shifts and the elastic colors that intertwine with Faust’s fast vibrato, not the least of which derives from a fiery tympani part, courtesy of Charlie Fischer.

Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 3 in G Minor (1851) emerged in the course of a week’s sojourn to Geneva and Mont Blanc, 2-9 October.  Though we cannot definitely ascribe the rhapsodic character of the opening movement to E.T.A. Hoffmann’s influence, the long-lined, surging, gloomy music obeys many of the same laws that propel Schumann’s mercurial piano pieces.  The two primary themes break off to indulge in some clever counterpoint, pizzicato with chromatic accompaniment. The Mendelssohn influence asserts itself in the late pages, which resound with Queyras’ ardent cello sound.

If the slow movement Ziemlich langsam begins as a dreamy, operatic duet for violin and cello, the music transforms suddenly into an emotional storm worthy of Lord Byron or Percy Shelley. The whirling filigree derives – starting with the cello’s angry outburst – from an agitated arpeggio figure in the first movement, once more proof of Schumann’s economy of means. The vehemence increases in intensity, only to abate and retreat to the “nostalgia for the dream” that well defines the Schumann ethos. Clara Schumann exulted in the Scherzo: “It sweeps one away to the wildest depths,” she exclaimed. Typically, the progression of maerchen energies and lyrical interludes contains two trios. Faust and Melnikov often create a passing duet, intimate and nervously delicate. The capricious finale, Kraeftig, mit Humor, absorbs currents from the previous movement, the staggered rhythmic drive a sign to Clara Schumann of “a creative, powerful spirit. . .original, absolutely full of passion.” Alternately noble, grotesque, chivalric, and rustic, the music embraces the multi-dimensional personae that always haunt the Schumann literary-musical world. Pianist Melnikov has fiery moment in the sun. The coda in G Minor revels with another the composer’s many carnival-jests, and our musical principals do not refrain from the festivities.

The accompanying DVD captures the concert performance which is on the CD, the somewhat-dated 4:3 color visual montage courtesy of Sebastian Nattkemper and Julian Schwenkner.

—Gary Lemco