Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Mike Tilling
Arts Correspondent
1:02 AM 20th April 2024

Classical Music: Robert Schumann: Piano Works

Robert Schumann: Piano Works

CD 1 Fantasy Op. 17; Papillons, Op. 2; Humoreske, Op. 20;
Davidsbündlertänze Op.6; Nachtstücke, Op. 23; Faschingsschwank aus Wein, Op. 26.

Llŷr Williams
Signum SIGCD756
2 CD, Digital Stream & Download

Apocryphal or not, the story has got around that some of Robert Schumann’s music may actually have been the work of his wife, Clara. The reason for this deception, if true, was not, apparently, the result of some plot to repress female composers, but recognition of the fact that a piece could earn more money if Robert’s name appeared at the top of the page.

There is, of course, further debate around this possibility, and even if it is untrue, the question remains as to why his name should be worth more than hers. After all, she was the one who had toured Europe, giving recitals. "How much of her work was his?" is the reciprocal question. Only idle speculation.

Some of the music on this double CD could be seen as early pieces expressing Robert’s love for Clara. The story of their tortured relationship is well known, with Clara’s father opposing the match at every turn. We can only speculate as to why he was so vehemently antagonistic, but it appears that their relationship might curtail her lucrative professional career.

On CD 1, take the second track, Fantasy Opus 17 ii. It opens with what may be described as a wedding march; it has such joy and optimism. Later, this moderates, becomes more playful, and then becomes reflective. Perhaps Schumann is tracking a marriage's progress.

The Fantasy Opus 17 iii is designated ‘Langsam’ (slow) and is suitably limpid, but surely he is referring directly to Beethoven’s sonatas, specifically the Sonata 14? Schumann soon moves away from such an overt homage, but it is clearly detectable.

CD2 has the ‘Nachtstuke’ (sic), or night pieces. Clearly, Schumann did not see the night in the same way as other composers of the Romantic era. The Opus 23 I opens with a march, and the other sections have nothing like the moody, reflective tone you might expect.

The second CD also features the eighteen pieces of David’s Bundlertanz Op6 sequence. The name refers to a music society, but Clara's inspiration came from a mazurka. Each piece is part of a running dialogue between two aspects of Robert’s personality: the impulsive and the poetic.

This double CD set features Llyr Williams' performances. Somehow, given his distinguished career, I have failed to encounter Williams before. Where have I been? His playing is precise and captures something of the Romantic period. The recording quality is excellent.

This is a feast for Schumann fans. There are many other recordings out there, and this CD takes an honourable place in that list.