CLARA SCHUMANN: Sonata in g; ROBERT SCHUMANN: Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 – Inna Faliks, piano – MSR Classics MS 1763, 55:10 ****:
Inna Faliks, Ukrainian-born American pianist, and head of the piano department at UCLA, is embarking on what should prove a very interesting series pairing the husband-and-wife team of Clara and Robert Schumann. Faliks has done some excellent discs for this label and has long desired to put together such a project stemming from her very early association with both these composers.
Of course, popular mythology likes to pretend that women like Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, and even Nannerl Mozart would have blossomed into formidable compositional talents had their life circumstances, along with more artistic freedom allowed to women in general in the Romantic age, been able to find fruit. But this is truly a myth. While we might like to imagine such things that tantalize our historical memories, and wonder at what might have been, we in fact understand that these ladies, for all their considerable skills—and in the case of Clara, pianistically huge skills—they were not of the same quality of their brothers of husbands. Then again, few were! So, it is not an unreasonable proposition to present their music simply to see how delightful much of it is. In the case of Clara Schumann, who spent the later years of her marriage desperately trying to accommodate her husband’s increasingly demanding moments, a stifling constriction was set upon her in a way that makes us only admire her genuine accomplishments even more.
She did not write much, and after 1848 or so spent most time in transcription work. Her quote “I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose – there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?” has intrigued many for years, and we can certainly surmise she might have felt differently today! Yet she in some ways sells herself short—her work is delicate, fanciful, lyrical, and indicative of a fine talent, albeit not a great one. The Sonata in G Minor given here shows these attributes. It is a fine work, not exceptional, but something I would look forward to as a filler on any concert program.
She wrote the piece at age 22. But about ten years earlier, Robert, at only two years older, produced his wonderful Symphonic Variations, and it doesn’t take a genius to hear the differences in quality. Again, to be fair, Schumann is to me the greatest exponent of romantic piano music who ever lived, and yes, I have heard Chopin and Brahms. But the idiomatic writing, incredible melody, and sheer invention overwhelms one, even at this early age.
Inna Faliks has a gossamer touch, warm, enveloping tone, and the chops needed to pull off both these works. MSR might be recording the piano better than anyone today, and this proves to be a most enjoyable and illuminating disc. I look forward to the next volume in this excellent project.