CLARA SCHUMANN: Piano Sonata in G Minor; ROBERT SCHUMANN: Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 – Inna Faliks, piano – MSR MS1763 (3/24/21) 55:10 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Clara Schumann (1819-1896) remains so often touted as a major instrumental talent that her gifts in composition pass us by unnoticed. Clara and Robert Schumann studied composition, fugue, and counterpoint together, and she composed her large-scale Sonata in G Minor, 1841-42. She presented the Allegro and Scherzo of the work to husband Robert as a Christmas gift at the end of 1841, but the piece lay unpublished until 1991. . The Scherzo, however, was published in 1845 as part of the Pièces fugitives, Op. 15, with some changes to the articulations and dynamics. Clara never performed the work in public, and she left the last movement Rondo devoid of any dynamic indications after measure 53.
Pianist Inna Faliks (rec. 2020) performs the Sonata with devotion and energy. The first movement, Allegro, proceeds in sonata-form, moving from the G Minor statement into a chromatic E-flat Major by way of homophonic and then contrapuntal means. Like Schubert, Clara Schumann seems convinced that mediant harmonies provide a course of transition and expression, a deviation from traditional procedure. In its more giddy moments, the rather operatic and arioso impulses give way to brisk, Mendelssohnian filigree. The development section arrests our attention for its unstable harmonies, some of which take us afield into A-flat and D-flat Major. The lyrical Adagio in E-flat Major exploits diminished seventh tones in passing and common chords, typical Romantic parlance. The middle section of this lied moves in B-flat Major. The Rondo gives us a bouncy dance in G Major, and it resembles a Beethoven contredanse. Its opening plays mainly staccato, while the middle section, in E Minor and A Minor, moves legato. The Rondo in G Minor does demonstrate Clara’s virtuoso side, moving in perpetual 16th notes, and the lyrical passage reminds us of one of her more famous lieder, Sie liebten sich beide, Op. 13/2 from 1842. Chromatic doublings and passing counterpoints add to the array of color of this ambitious work, which Ms. Faliks sees as having been duly influenced by Chopin’s E Minor Concerto.
Faliks addresses the opening motif – originally penned by Baron von Fricken, whose illegitimate daughter Ernestine was engaged to the twenty-year-old Robert Schumann in 1834 – with a stentorian, orchestral sonority, appropriate to a work (published in 1837) under the title of XII Symphoniques Études. Characters from Schumann’s world, real and imaginary, “pay a visit” in the Symphonic Etudes: Paganini, Mendelssohn, Chopin, as well as his aggressive Florestan and the dreamy Eusebius. Schumann characterizes the progression as a series of “variations,” but only nine of sixteen movements were explicitly indicated as “variations.” In subsequent editions, 1852 and 1890, respectively, specific variations were deleted; and later, in the version published by Friedrich Wieck and edited by Johannes Brahms, five variants found their way back as the “posthumous” or “Eusebius” variations, which the individual performer who wants them for their innate beauty must include in an order of his own choice.
Faliks places the five posthumous etudes at key points in what she feels maintains the internal, harmonic logic of Schumann’s progression. The No. 2 (Andante) of the set seems to belong to Eusebius, an intoxicated dream in dialogue and tremolos; the No. 3 – after Etude No. 5 Scherzando -plays as an askew, demented waltz. Faliks feels that to reach the finale, Etude XII (Allegro brillante) in D-flat Major, she needs the posthumous No. 5 in D-flat as a natural, if alla musette, transition. The scale of Faliks’ performance proves immense, lasting more than a half-hour, and it embraces a manic shift of moods and temperaments, including a truly explosive Etude VII (Allegro molto). The Bach influence for layered counterpoint suffuses the next Variation 7, Etude VIII (Sempre marcatissimo), that, with the ensuing Posthumous Variation IV (a kind of liturgical slow movement), establishes a Baroque sensibility to the occasion. Faliks calls the posthumous additions “some of the most moving music Schumann has ever written for the piano.” Some of the late variations, Etudes IX and X, for instance, present us pure and unabashed bravura in double octaves. And possibly the most forward looking and almost redolent of later Debussy, the Etude XI, Andante espressivo, generates a misty eroticism entirely its own. Concluding the original set of etudes was a solitary variation on the tune Du stolzes England freue dich (“Proud England, rejoice!”) from Henrich Marschner’s opera based on Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Whether that allusion remains meaningful, the finale takes us from what had been a dark vision and ends with a striking apotheosis, what Faliks terms “ebullient light.”
Other reviews of pianist Inna Falik here.