04 Clara Robert JohannesClara Robert Johannes – Romance and Counterpoint
National Arts Centre Orchestra Canada; Alexander Shelley
Analekta AN 2 8884-5 (analekta.com/en)

This is the fourth and final installment in Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra’s retrospective of the deeply intimate and complicated musical connections between Clara Wieck, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. Robert studied with Clara’s father, Clara and Johannes studied with Robert, Robert and Clara were married and had eight children together, Clara and Johannes cared for Robert as he struggled with mental health torments, and they remained close and devoted friends and colleagues for decades after Robert’s death. Through it all, the composing, performing and teaching of music was of utmost importance.

Conductor Alexander Shelley leads the NACO in thrilling performances of the fourth symphonies of Schumann and Brahms. Particularly impressive is the sweeping and warm string sound and uniformly free and elegant playing from the winds and brass. Though the symphonies were written over 40 years apart, they share a kinship in the eloquence of their Romantic musical language, poignancy and grandeur. Shelley coaxes all of this and more out of the orchestra. Kudos to producers and engineers for the gorgeous recorded sound. 

Also included is a generous collection of the solo piano music of Clara Schumann and her magnificent Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op.22 in a fine performance by NACO concertmaster Yosuke Kawasaki and pianist Angela Hewitt. The solo piano works (a collection of Romances, Preludes and Fugues) are all played with sensitivity and great imagination by Stewart Goodyear. Of special note are Clara’s explorations of themes of J.S. Bach. There are well-known accounts of evenings that the Schumanns spent with Felix Mendelssohn, playing and discussing Bach’s keyboard works, which Clara also used in her teaching into the 1890s. The recording concludes with Goodyear’s own musical offering: an affecting improvisation on themes of Clara’s.

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