Wednesday 16 September 2015

Those investing in Alexander Melnikov’s new recording for Harmonia Mundi of Schumann’s Piano Concerto and Piano Trio No.2 with Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras and the Freiburger Barockorchester under Pablo Heras-Casado are likely to be bowled over by the sheer musicality of the performances

Harmonia Mundi  have recently released the second instalment of a series of discs featuring the concertos and trios of Robert Schumann (1810-1856) played by Alexander Melnikov, Isabelle Faust and Jean-Guihen Queyras with the Freiburger Barockorchester conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado .

This new disc brings us the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54 together with the Piano Trio No.2 in F major, Op.80 with Melnikov playing an Erard fortepiano of 1837 and a Streicher fortepiano from 1847, both part of the collection of Edwin Beunk .

HMC 902198
The idea for this project arose during a tour on which these artists performed Schumann’s Trio Op.80. They conceived the idea of placing his works for piano, violin and cello in a broader context and to illuminate them mutually in order to allow listeners to gain a deeper understanding of his music. They soon decided to play the works on these recordings using historical instruments, fortepiano, stringed instruments with gut strings and orchestral forces to match. Pablo Heras-Casado and the Freiburger Barockorchester were chosen as the partners for this project.

For the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54 (1841–45) Melnikov plays an Erard fortepiano of 1837. By that date Erard had developed the double escapement mechanism which allowed the same note to be repeated very quickly and with no consequent loss of dynamics.

Certainly this Erard projects itself wonderfully, providing some fine tonal qualities across the range. The Allegro affetuoso brings a crisp, precise opening from soloist and orchestra with a fine tautness of ensemble. There is a terrific balance of individual instruments and soloist. Melnikov produces some beautifully articulated passages with a real legato line, combining real poetry without bursts of emotional intensity. Heras-Casado and the Freiburger Barockorchester prove to be the perfect partner, with this conductor drawing some especially fine textures and dynamics as well as a terrific tautness. In the cadenza Melnikov extracts some quite lovely tones and textures from his instrument before a very fine fluent and crisp coda.

Melnikov brings a light, crisp touch to the Intermezzo. Andantino grazioso with an almost playfully flexible tempo whilst the Freiburger Barockorchester provide exquisitely turned phrases. Both soloist and orchestra bring a real charm and fantasy to this movement before leading into the finale.

Melnikov and the orchestra bring a real rhythmic swagger to the Allegro vivace with some beautifully broad piano passages showing all that this Erard can do. Soloist and orchestra respond perfectly, the orchestra’s transparent string textures are particularly fine. These players bring a real life and joy to this movement with Melnikov providing a terrific rubato. There are some lovely little quiet moments for piano and orchestra where the rhythmic motif is pointed up as well as some lovely sonorities as the Freiburgers accompany Melnikov towards the coda, nicely pointed up by timpani.

This is a Schumann A minor concerto to stand alongside the finest modern instrument performances. The recording from the Teldex Studio, Berlin, Germany is first rate.

For the Piano Trio No.2 in F major, Op.80 (1847) Alexander Melnikov turns to a Streicher fortepiano made in Vienna in 1847. He is accompanied by Isabelle Faust who plays a Stradivarius of 1704 and Jean-Guihen Queyras who plays a Gioffredo Cappa cello from 1696.

As the Sehr lebhaft opens these performers show intuitive precision and tautness with a fine rhythmic lilt that drives the flow. They provide a fine control of dynamics with some particularly lovely quieter moments and some lovely subtle harmonies. But it is the rhythmic forward propulsion that marks this performance.

The second movement Mit innigem Ausdruck brings an exquisite, gentle ebb and flow. There are more lovely hushed textures with these players revealing much lovely detail. The tone of the Streicher instrument is lovely, its lighter tone blending beautifully with the strings. In the later sudden dynamic outburst these artists bring great sounds before allowing the music to resume its gentle flow.

This trio bring an intimacy to the In mäßiger Bewegung that is most appealing, a lovely weaving and blending of textures and some lovely little dynamic surges. They shape this movement beautifully, with some glorious sonorities in the coda.

The fortepiano quickly takes off followed by the cello and violin in a forceful and energetic Nicht zu rasch. These players weave a terrific sound as they hurtle after each other in some terrific passages before a sparkling coda. The instruments add so much to the texture in this fine performance.

Those who are still not convinced by period performances may well find themselves bowled over by the sheer musicality of these performances.

There are excellent booklet notes with details of the instruments used.

As a substantial bonus this new release comes with a DVD recording of a live performance of the concerto from the Berliner Philharmonie. This performance has many of the same qualities as the CD studio recording though with Melnikov and the orchestra pointing up the dynamic contrasts even more dramatically, particularly in the first movement.

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