Schumann: Piano Concerto & Piano Trio op. 80

Alexander Melnikov fortepiano, Isabelle Faust violin, Jean-Guihen Queyras violoncello, Freiberger Barockorchester, Pablo Heras-Casado
57:51
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902198

This is the second of three recordings from this team that will pair the three piano trios with the concertos written for each of the instruments in the trio. Partnered by the ever-alert Freiberg Barockorchester (86543 strings), Alexander Melnikov’s performance of possibly the best-loved of the concertos takes one by the scruff of the neck and gives a good shake – there is nothing nostalgic about his reading. I have read another review in which the critic said he would rather hear Schumann than Melnikov interpreting Schumann; I find that not only a rather vacuous thing to say (isn’t ever performance, even the first one, an interpretation?), but also an insult to these wonderful musicians and their fresh exploration of Schumann’s score. Inevitably period instruments bring a clarity to the palette that reveal new details in a score that caused its composer no end of difficulty.

Faust, Queyras and Melnikov have embraced gut strings and a period piano for their trio performances, too. To me, this brings a richer colour to the strings and lightens the texture of the piano part to a degree that once again these seem like new works. The slow movement of op. 80, “Mit innigem Ausdruck” in the outlandish key of D flat major, is absolutely gorgeous – the strings dialoging beautifully against the backdrop of the piano’s figuration. The “Nicht zu rasch” finale is a tour de force from composer and performers.

I was not sure how a CD juxtaposing an orchestral work with a chamber piece would work, but it does. The sound worlds are so different, and yet the calibre of performance is maintained. It is impossible (for me) to fault a splendid achievement.

Brian Clark

PS I was reviewing a downloaded version which came without the DVD that is bundled with the CD, so I am unable to comment on that aspect of the package.