Sunday, November 23, 2008

In Review---Schumann's Violin Sonatas

Carolin Widmann (violin)
Robert Schumann The Violin Sonatas
ECM New Series

The legendary Romantic era composer Robert Schumann was born during at time when amorous affairs could and often did lead to venereal disease. Since antibiotics had not been discovered yet, many artists, composers, etc succumbed to various disabilities, including deafness, and madness as consequences of the disease. Schumann suffered from madness towards the end of his life, I read due to a venereal disease he had contracted earlier.

Married to another legendary figure, Clara Schumann, you might often encounter this musician-composer couple when reading about classical music. Or you might encounter the couple when attending a symphony or chamber music house party. That sadly, is about all I know about the Schumanns at this point. However, the new ECM recording, Robert Schumann The Violin Sonatas, performed by German violinist Carolin Widmann and Hungarian pianist Dènes Vàrjon, acts as my baptism into the Schumann's world.

Schumann composed three violin sonatas in which his wife, Clara performed the piano role. However, according to Widmann interviewed in the press notes, Clara held Sonata #3 from the public because she felt it revealed her husband's deteriorating sanity. "Even from today's perspective I somehow understand why Clara Schumann held back the third sonata and some of Robert's late compositions for a such a long time. She must have feared that they would expose just too much of this mentally ill man whose--then quite unstable reputation she had to protect."

The second sonata is my favorite on the recording, (which appears as the final tracks on the CD). The sonata expresses delight, melancholy and a gamut of emotions, along with offering the musicians some real musical challenges. There is a lilting melodic line that appears throughout the first section that I enjoy. The second section can be called punchy and it marches along until it reaches the slow, third section which comes off as brooding. I am reminded of a later work, Maurice Ravel's Piano Concert in G major (middle section). The fourth section of Schumann's second sonata possesses a Hungarian gypsy feel in its wildness.

The musicians perform these sonatas with fiery wild abandonment and great sensitivity, creating what otherwise could have been a melancholic listening session, into an intense and exciting one. I also feel that the musicians give great consideration to Schumann as a fellow musician and human being with frailties and vulnerabilities, as well as virtuoso talent.

I am not certain how this recording would fit into a healing regime except that it might act as a balm to moodiness or assist with releasing repressed anger/frustration in a healthy manner. I find that a lot of the Romantic era music works in this way, and I have often listened to Beethoven's music to release anger and reclaim my power. So give it a try and listen to the recording.

Dènes Vàrjon (klavier)

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