Sunday 20 July 2014

The winning combination of Raphael Wallfisch and John York brings works by Schumann for cello and piano as well as a string orchestra version of the Cello Concerto on a new release form Nimbus

Raphael Wallfisch  and John York  have proved to be something of a winning combination with their recordings for Nimbus Records . They return with a new release of works by Robert Schumann, mainly from the year 1849.
NI 5916

But first on this new disc is a work from 1850, Schumann’s Concerto in A minor for cello and string orchestra, Op.129 (1850). If a concerto for cello and string orchestra doesn’t seem familiar that is because it is a version of the original concerto made for string orchestra by Arthur H. Lilienthal (2008). The Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester, Pforzheim  is conducted by Niklas Willén

So why make this version in the first place? It seems that Schumann offered his publisher, Breitkopf, a version with string quintet and a piano reduction. Though these two versions were not taken up, it raised in Raphael Wallfisch’s mind the tantalising idea of a string orchestra version. Wallfisch asked the Swiss composer, Arthur Lilienthal, to undertake the task, the result of which is recorded here.

From the short orchestral opening of the first movement, Nicht zu schnell, the sound of the string orchestra sounds entirely natural, the cello blending beautifully as it enters. It is only as the movement progresses with an extended orchestral section that the loss of bass weight and orchestral texture is noticeable. Raphael Wallfisch brings his lovely tone and many moments of passion and intimacy to bear. Indeed there is an intimate quality to the playing all round, a transparency of sound and, at times, a chamber quality to this performance with some lovely string sonorities from the orchestra.

In the Langsam – Etwas lebhafter, both soloist and orchestra find a gentle, mellow quality, with a beautiful warmth.

There is some beautifully crisp orchestral playing with taut, flexible playing from Wallfisch in the final Sehr lebhaft – Schneller, following every nuance. There is a playful quality to his playing with the string orchestra so lithe and flexible. It used to be one of the criticisms of this concerto that, in order not to submerge the soloist, Schumann’s orchestration was rather lean. The string orchestra certainly provides all the clarity you could wish for.

Raphael Wallfisch is a fine advocate for this version and the Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester provides excellent support.  

Wallfisch and the orchestra receive a fine recording from St Laurentius-Kirche, Amthof, Oberderdingen, Germany.

John York (piano) joins Raphael Wallfisch for a number of Schumann’s works for cello and piano, though having said that, some are arrangements of works originally for other instruments.

Schumann’s Fünf Stücke im Volkston, Op.102 (1849) was written for cello and piano, though a version for violin and piano exists. Raphael Wallfisch and John York bring a somewhat characterful feel to ‘Vanitas vanitatum’ Mit Humor, full of peasant rhythms. A lovely mellow Langsam is quite hushed, with some especially fine playing from these players who provide a lovely rhythmic lilt to Nicht schnell, mit viel Ton zu spielen. There is such taut ensemble between these players, who obviously understand each other. There are lovely textures and some exquisite higher cello passages. Tight ensemble is given in Nicht zu rasch with terrific attention to dynamics and some lovely cello timbres. More characterful playing comes in the final piece, Stark und markirt, making one wonder just what Schumann had imagined when he wrote it, being so full of curious twists and turns.

Drei Romanzen, Op.94 (1849) is an arrangement of the original for oboe and piano, though a version for violin or clarinet also exists. This version sits especially well for the cello with Wallfisch and York gently rising from a softer opening of Nicht schnell before some rather skittish passages and a gentle coda. Einfach, innig flows forward beautifully with a lovely, simple melody. The way these players bring out the subtle little beauties around the passionate central section is exquisite. They bring a sense of propulsion to the Nicht schnell by holding back before letting the music move forward. A more flowing central section also sees them finding many lovely details.

Phantasiestücke, Op.73 (1849) was originally for clarinet and piano but versions for violin and cello with piano exist. There is a lovely flow in the opening of Zart und mit Ausdruck with these players bringing so much gentle warmth as well as every little nuance. This is a particularly beautiful piece, especially in these hands, full of sensitivity. The beautifully Schumannesque piano part to Lebhaft, leicht is played so well by York, with Wallfisch light and lithe in the wonderful cello part. Rasch und mit Feuer races forward in some of this disc’s finest playing with a terrific, taut coda.

The Adagio und Allegro, Op.70 in A flat major (1849) originated as a work for horn and piano before versions for violin or cello and piano. The marking, Langsam, mit innigem Ausdruck – Rasch und feurig – Etwas ruhiger – im ersten tempo – Schneller. (Slow, with heartfelt expression – Fast and Fiery – Somewhat calmer – In the initial tempo – Quicker) gives some idea of how much emotional variety Schumann crams into this short work. The slow, heartfelt opening is exquisitely played and the ‘fast and fiery’ section is full of panache with almost a swagger, before the calmer Etwas ruhiger and the Schneller finale.

John York has arranged two of Schumann’s Liederkreis, settings of Eichendorff, for cello and piano. They work wonderfully well with Wallfisch bringing some fine emotional pull and York providing extremely sensitive accompaniment in ‘Mondnacht’ Liederkreis, Op.39 No.5 (1840). The little ‘Frühlingsnacht’ Liederkreis, Op.39 No.12 (1840) is full of joy and passion.

These artists receive an equally fine recording from Nimbus’ Wyastone Leys venue, Monmouth, UK. There are excellent booklet notes from John York.

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