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Hyperion Records

CDA67661 - Schumann: Music for cello & piano
The Flight into Egypt (detail) (1609) by Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610)
CDA67661

Recording details: June 2008
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: March 2009
Total duration: 69 minutes 46 seconds

GRAMOPHONE EDITOR'S CHOICE
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE INSTRUMENTAL CHOICE

'A disc that all Schumann lovers will want to own' (BBC Radio 3 CD Review)

'Could this be his best recording yet? … [Fantasiestucke] has a wonderfully considered and luxuriant aspect; the results never sound contrived. That's partly to do with Isserlis's sound, which has a very focused centre to it, but also his utterly intimate relationship with pianist Dénes Várjon. Perhaps the most ravishing item on the disc is the poignant Abendlied … in his hands it's as moving a wordless Lied as anything you could imagine … for all that Isserlis has made many wonderful recordings, not least his seminal Bach suites, I think this might just be his finest yet' (Gramophone)

'This fabulously virtuosic and psychologically complex work [Violin Sonata] forces Isserlis's musicianship up to a new level … Isserlis masters its explosive flourishes and has the vital impetus to manke an eccentric work feel whole' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This music sings and soars, flying to the instrument's highest reaches with dreamy eloquence and a sense of rightness … he plays with fierceness and soul' (The Observer)

'Enhanced by glowingly intimate sound from Andrew Keener and Simon Eadon, Isserlis constantly draws us in with playing of gentle radiance and exquisite nuancing … [Violin Sonata] sets the seal on one of Isserlis's finest discs' (International Record Review)

'The whole programme is a delight, as both artists catch the music's poetic ebb and flow to perfection' (The Sunday Times)

Music for cello & piano
Lebhaft, leicht  [3'09]
Adagio  [4'17]
Allegro  [4'36]
Scherzo: Lebhaft  [3'12]
Nicht schnell  [3'10]
Nicht schnell  [4'04]
Langsam  [3'37]
Nicht zu rasch  [1'47]

‘There is no composer to whom I feel closer than to Schumann. He has been a beloved friend since I was a child; I remain as fascinated today as I was then by his unique blend of poetry, ecstatic strength and confessional intimacy.’

Steven Isserlis’s own words give the background to this fascinating disc.

Schumann’s affection for the cello ran deep. It was an instrument he had played in his youth, and considered taking up again when, at the age of twenty-two, an accident to his hand forced him to relinquish his dream of being a virtuoso pianist. ‘I want to take up the violoncello again (one needs only the left hand for this) and it will be very useful to me in composing symphonies’, he wrote to his mother. The sound of the cello played without the right hand would have been somewhat minimalist; but his love for the instrument is clearly demonstrated by the cello parts in all four of his symphonies, as well as in the concertos for piano and violin, and of course throughout his chamber music. As the great musicologist Donald Francis Tovey put it: ‘The qualities of the violoncello are exactly those of the beloved dreamer whom we know as Schumann.’


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Schumann’s affection for the cello ran deep. It was an instrument he had played in his youth, and considered taking up again when, at the age of twenty-two, an accident to his hand forced him to relinquish his dream of being a virtuoso pianist. ‘I want to take up the violoncello again (one needs only the left hand for this) and it will be very useful to me in composing symphonies’, he wrote to his mother. The sound of the cello played without the right hand would have been somewhat minimalist; but his love for the instrument is clearly demonstrated by the cello parts in all four of his symphonies, as well as in the concertos for piano and violin, and of course throughout his chamber music. As the great musicologist Donald Francis Tovey put it: ‘The qualities of the violoncello are exactly those of the beloved dreamer whom we know as Schumann.’

It is a pity, then, that the only works in Schumann’s catalogue originally conceived for solo cello are his wonderful Concerto of 1850, the five Romances of 1853 (almost his last work, destroyed some forty years after their composition by his widow Clara), and the Stücke im Volkston (‘Pieces in folk style’) that conclude this disc. Fortunately, though, Schumann took pity on cellists to the extent of permitting the performance on cello of his Fantasiestücke Op 73, for clarinet, and the Adagio and Allegro Op 70, originally for horn; and surely he would have had no objection to the Romances for oboe, Op 94, being played an octave lower.

Four of the works on this programme date from 1849: the Fantasiestücke and Adagio and Allegro (both from February), the Stücke im Volkston (April) and the Romances (December)—all of them written in Schumann’s customary inspired haste, each completed within a few days. Germany was in turmoil at that time, the revolution against the monarchies that had begun a year earlier spreading across the country in a perilous sheet of flame. The Schumanns, then living in Dresden, were in danger; in May, Republican soldiers came looking for Robert in order to enlist him. He hid, subsequently fleeing with Clara and their eldest daughter to a nearby haven; two days later, Clara—six months pregnant—returned to Dresden in the middle of the night, snatched the remaining three children from their beds and made a dramatic escape. Writing to a friend from his place of sanctuary, Schumann reflected: ‘For some time now I’ve been very busy … it seemed as if the outer storms impelled people to turn inward, and only there did I find a counterforce against the forces breaking in so frightfully from outside’. So typical of Schumann—one gets the feeling that for him the outer world was always something of a threat; he preferred to live within his dreams.

A note on cellos
Probably a fair definition of a spoilt brat is a cellist who has access to two Stradivari cellos. At the time of this recording, I was in that rather unbelievable position, The Nippon Music Foundation of Japan having lent me the De Munck (or Feuermann) Stradivarius of 1730, while the Royal Academy of Music in London allowed me to use the Marquis de Corberon (or Nelsova) Strad of 1726. I am hugely grateful to both institutions for their kindness. In the event, I took along both cellos to the sessions, and decided on the spur of the moment which to use for which piece (ending up dividing the honours fairly evenly). I leave it to the (very) sharp-eared listener to discern which cello can be heard on which track!

Steven Isserlis © 2009

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