Cello Concerto, Violin Concerto, Piano Sonatas opp. 11 and 22
Cello Concerto. Varga/Westphallan SO/Landau; Violin Concerto. Lautenbacher/ Radio Luxembourg Orchestra/Cao Turnabout
Cello Concerto. BLOCH Schelomo. Rostropovich/Orchestre National de France/ Bernstein. emi
Piano Sonatas opp. 11 and 22. Lazar Berman. emi
In 1937 the spirit of Schumann implored Jelly d'Aranyi to find and perform his long-lost Violin Concerto; and sure enough the manuscript was eventually located, in the very library to which a relative of hers had sold it. But at that point, if not earlier, the wonders cease. The work is so sadly sub-standard that it was suppressed by the Schumann circle as symptomatic of mental illness. Its moments of sweetly bewildered melancholy are very affecting, though perhaps more as autobiography than as music. This recording adds little of note. The orchestra lacks refinement and clarity (lower strings in the first movement at bars I1-13, oboe at bar 191, and so on). An occasional deft touch of polish from the soloist makes the wistful melodies shine very agreeably in places, but too much of the passage-work is mopped up rather heavy-handedly (e.g. at bars 80-89). Much the same applies to the Cello Concerto performance, which also offers the surprising solecism of stuffing an interminable solo cadenza straight into the middle of Schumann's original accompagnata, like interrupting one's host with a long and tedious anecdote of one's own. The result, despite some reasonably authentic tempos, is to drag the work out nearly as much as Rostropovich and Bernstein between them, namely a record 25 minutes. Their finale eventually gets in touch with the spirit of Schumann, by following his directions more closely. In particular the cadenza makes a vivid impression (as it must have done on Elgar, on the evidence of his violin concerto). But in general I feel that the sumptuously coloured sound misses the plain sense of the music. Schumann's mild autumnal tints are switched into Blackpool illuminations. Every leaf has its own dying tall, under a separate spotlight. Les sanglots longs de Rostropovich, though convincingly eloquent and authentic in Bloch's Schelomo, sound to me wholly alien to; Schumann's native language. There is a typical self-quotation which may provide some objective criterion. The transition to the slow movement of the Cello Concerto (bars 782-5) manifestly if mysteriously refers to the finale of the G minor Sonata (bars 29-32 etc). No doubt the pulse and pace had slowed down somewhat during the intervening 12 years, but the original features are surely meant to remain recognizable. For a youthful likeness try Lazar Berman, who plays like a laser beam on every facet of this splendid music. Perhaps the result is rather too brilliant from some points of view; but I feel that it unifies the bright and dark aspects of Schumann's personality (the showman and the shaman, as one might call them) as effectively as their contrasting natures permit. So I fancy these are the performances, though they may miss some of the composer's nuances, that would most appeal to his shade.
The Musical Times, Feb., 1978 (p. 146) © the estate of eric sams