Composers: Clara Schumann
Works: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Romances, Deuxieme Scherzo, Myrthen, Liederkreis, Piano Sonata in G Minor
Performers: Isata Kanneh-Mason p
Catalogue Number: Decca 4850020

One of the greatest pianists of her age, Clara Wieck was married to one of the greatest composers of her age – Robert Schumann. After he died in 1856, she became an indispensable mentor to Brahms. Her own work as a composer was curtailed by her pianism, her life as a mother to eight children and a husband whose health deteriorated over time, and after she reached her mid-30s she wrote very little. Thanks to increasing interest, we now have a rounder picture of her compositional achievements.

This year marks the bicentenary of her birth, and there are many beautiful things here, particularly the partnership between Kanneh-Mason and violinist Elena Urioste in the three Romances. The G Minor Piano Sonata was unpublished until 1991 and, as far as we know, unperformed in her lifetime. Cast in a language informed – not unsurprisingly – by Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn, it has a finely-drawn sense of drama. When you realise that Clara was soloist in the premiere of this, her only piano concerto, at the age of 16, you appreciate just how remarkable an achievement it is. The virtuosic piano part is testament to a keyboard prowess that, even then, must have been exceptional.

Kanneh-Mason’s playing is often fine, and she certainly gets the rubato-infused rhetoric of this musical world, but occasionally – particularly in the sonata – I felt her responses were a little polite and under-characterised. I would love to hear Angela Hewitt tackle this music.

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