03 Clara Robert JohannesClara Robert Johannes – Atmosphere and Mastery
Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra; Alexander Shelley
Analekta AN 2 8882-3 (analekta.com/en) 

Perhaps, as classical music fans, we like to think of our enjoyment of this music in a priori terms. Music for music’s sake and all that. As an extension of the better-known maxim, “l’art pour l’art,” (Art for Art’s Sake), this 19th-century declaration that art is most “true” when decoupled from extra-musical meaning or purposes (social, utilitarian etc.), provides a sort of tautological framework for our 21st-century tastes: classical music is good, because it is good music. Unlike such artifacts of mainstream culture as so-called “pop” music, whose raison d’être is a kind of didactic utilitarianism (music for dancing, music for escapism etc.), classical music, rightly or wrongly, has come to be seen as more other-worldly and elevated (some might say hifalutin). But, as we learn with Clara-Robert-Johannes, the third of a four-part recording cycle from Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra that mines both the Schumann/Brahms canon and their relationship, what could be more salaciously human than a potential relationship triangle marked by the entanglements of marriage, death and unrequited love? 

Performed skillfully under the direction of Alexander Shelley, this 2023 recording features some lesser-known pieces by the compositional triumvirate of Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms that, none-the-less, represent the high-water mark of Romantic-era beauty and sophistication. With greater compositional representation given here to Clara, not simply as muse to both Robert and Brahms, but rightly acknowledging and platforming her as a compositional force of equal magnitude and import, Clara-Robert-Johannes captures the complexities of both their music and of the human condition in this gorgeously captured and fine recording.

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