Thursday, August 20, 2015

Richter and Rostropovich Play Concertos by Robert Schumann


   Romanticism was artistic and intellectual movement of various directions and currents. One of dominants of the era was social and philosophical background of artistic activities. This was not new idea, but in prior eras it was always limited to one clear idea and all answers were already known. The one and only question was about how to render idea to find full understanding of listeners. In romanticism many composers were searching for new, more capacious musical construction and a new shape of musical forms. One of such ambitious composers was Robert Schumann (1810-1856), who was experimenting with new forms and trying to renew some classical ideas. He started as music critic and he was always aware of the possibilities and importance of meaning in absolute music. Most famous examples are his cycles of piano miniatures, cycles of songs and four symphonies. Also at least two of his concertos are concert favorites.
   Robert Schumann started composing piano concertos when he was twenty, but results disappointed him and in effect he criticized the idea of the form. In 1828 he worked on piano concerto in E-flat major, next year he tried to compose concerto for piano and orchestra in F major, then in 1839 he wrote one movement of concerto in D minor. When he was thirty, he wrote Fantasy in a Minor for piano and orchestra which became the first part of Piano Concerto in A Minor Op. 54, finished in 1845. His next concert pieces were Konzertstück for Four Horns and Orchestra Op. 86 and Introduction and Allegro Appassionato for Piano and Orchestra Op. 92, both composed in 1849, Cello Concerto in A Minor Op. 129 from 1850 and three concert works from 1853: Fantasy in C for violin and orchestra Op. 131, Introduction and Allegro for Piano and Orchestra Op. 134 and Violin Concerto in D minor.  Both concertos in A Minor are definitely most famous of Schumann’s concertos.

Richter Rostropovich Schumann - Concertos (1961, reissue 1971)

   Piano Concerto in A Minor is great success of Robert Schumann and His idea of emotionally driven concerto being continuation of Beethoven’s symphonic concerto and antithetic to concertos of Schumann’s contemporaries. The compact shape, fresh and clear melodic invention and construction subordinated to the clear dramatic idea are features of this work. The 1958 interpretation by Svjatoslav Richter (1915-1997) is probably the best rendition of Schumann’s Piano Concerto ever. Richter as virtuoso pianist had technical excellence and intellectual base sufficient to create great works of art. What makes him unique is his possibility of profound emotional connection with the composer’s idea and with listener’s sensibility. He communicates not as middleman; he is the fully proficient element of this process. His vision of Schumann is touchingly simple, like he was just playing notes finding them instinctively their natural place. Orchestra of Warsaw National Philharmonic conducted by Witold Rowicki sounds very good, with lots of space for soloist and well balanced proportions.
   Cello was one of instruments Schumann have studied in his youth, so he knew possibilities and limitations of the instrument enough good. But his idea of joining soloist with orchestra was rather to create emotional dramatic tension in musical narration than conventional piece in concerting style which he had so much criticized. He wrote concert in three united movements with concise solos and considerate answers in orchestral parts. In effect Cello Concerto in A Minor Op. 129 is Schumann’s great achievement and one of the best cello concertos ever. Its cheerful feeling, slide along and flowing action, reducing make it invariably great position in concert repertoire. Interpreted by Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007), one of best cellists recorded ever, Schumann’s Concerto sounds perfect, light and meaningful. Accompanied by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Rostropovich’s 1961 brilliant performance shows charm of Schumann’s Cello Concerto. Many qualities mentioned on Richter’s interpretation of Schumann’s Piano Concerto and Mstislav Rostropovich’s rendition of Cello Concerto in A Minor Op. 129 have their counterpart in each other. No wonder Deutsche Grammophon joined these two recordings in one album in 1961 and republished it in 1971. Five stars for these breathtakingly performances is quite natural rate.

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