Schumann at the Kammermusiksaal

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January 9, 2013 by anelim

Last night there was an absolutely superb concert at the Kammermusiksaal in Berlin. András Schiff on the piano and Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass baritone) performed a whole evening of Schumann’s songs and piano pieces: Études Symphoniques, selection from Myrthen, Fantasy in C major and the whole cycle of Dichterliebe (see programme here).

 

 

Piano magic (Photo: Idle Ethnographer 2006)

Piano magic (Photo: Idle Ethnographer 2006)

Müller-Brachmann has, as my friend put it, the perfect “Schumann voice”. My German isn’t good enough to discern the lyrics, and I have not read Heinrich Heine, so all I could hear were the rhymes at the end of lines, but even so I enjoyed the songs. Having said that, the singer’s enunciation was great, and my German isn’t quite hopeless anymore, so perhaps part of the problem was in that I was sitting in the wrong half of the hall. Although the acoustics in the Chamber Music hall is generally very good, its untypically huge dimensions do present some problems when listening to singers unless you sit in the front or at the front sides. Next time I go to a voice performance I’ll try to sit in the front hemisphere around the stage. However, my seat was perfect for watching the hands of the pianist – which is my favourite thing to do in concerts – so sectors G/H aren’t that bad at all! Especially when the pianist is András Schiff. His pianissimo sounds defined and dignified, yet soft. He played with subdued brilliance, all the more captivating because he wasn’t showing off in the least – regardless of whether he was accompanying the singer or playing stand-alone piano pieces. A benevolent magician in full control of the piano and his audience. Although I enjoyed all pieces, the highlight of the evening for me was the Fantasy in C. In all honesty, this was the best performance I have seen or heard this piece. I can’t find a video online, so here is another Schiff performance for you to enjoy. If he comes to play near you, go see him.

“Schumann,” says András Schiff, “must sound improvised and not ‘crafted’.” For instance, the pianist says that at the beginning of the C major Fantasy op. 17, revised in 1838, the filler voices should by all means “sweep fantastically”, form an iridescent musical foundation, “above which the essence of the outer voices ascends”.

Schumann made a gift of Myrthen op. 25, completed in 1840, to his “beloved bride”. In a letter dated 10 February Clara dreamed of them gushingly: “[…] tell me what you are composing? I would love to know! […] is it perhaps intended as a wedding present for me?” The basis for the total of 26 songs in the collection, from which Hanno Müller-Brachmann will select a few, are based on poems of various authors and reflect on topics such as “love”, “togetherness” and “marriage”.

Longing for and dreaming of the loved one is also the subject of Dichterliebe op. 48, also composed in the “year of songs” 1840; with this, Schumann composed the most striking song cycle based on Heine through the present day and at the same time a high point in the romantic art song. This time, however, the texts describe the path from the emotional awakening of love “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai” to the harrowing moment of being refused to that depressive stage in which unhappy lovers have to ‘bury’ their feelings.

(from the programme)

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