If there’s anyone in the modern era who can channel the spirit of Robert Schumann’s wife, muse and principal performer Clara Wieck, then it’s Angela Hewitt. The Canadian pianist is no “personality-player” loading idiosyncrasies into music that in the wrong hands can sometimes seem obscure, self-indulgent or even a tad disturbing. As she demonstrated in her previous recordings of Schumann’s solo piano music, Hewitt identifies deeply with the great German Romantic’s lyricism, and loses herself, and the listener, in its beauty, getting inside the music as if she were Clara herself (for whom it was written), and expanding it outwards.
But the difference in this new Schumann release is that in Hannu Lintu and the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, she’s now found collaborators who are willing to be similarly open to the music’s subtleties. Everyone will comment on the singularity of their reading of the famous A-Minor Concerto’s finale, played at a gentler tempo than usual and with a real lilt, in the spirit of the dance. But it’s in the Intermezzo middle movement that the supreme artistry is most evident, as Hewitt weaves a filigree around the orchestra, a kind of now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t interaction between piano line and the ensemble texture.
You’d have to go back two generations to Dinu Lipatti to find anything to compare with the poetry of the playing. Even in the more dramatic moments it remains a ravishing thing, and if you’ve never really made sense of this concerto previously, listen to this version and assume that if you’re not converted to Schumann after it, you never will be.
Like Murray Perahia on his Sony release with the Berlin Philharmonic under Abbado, Hewitt couples the concerto with two unheralded other Schumann works for piano and orchestra. The opening to the Introduction and Allegro Appassionato, Op 92 is perhaps the highlight, a musical embodiment of the cover image of a romantic Frida Kahlo-style figure staring into a radiant distance. But the Introduction and Concert-Allegro, Op 134 is also impressive, especially when it works up a head of steam without ever lapsing into vulgarity or brashness.
Hewitt’s articulate liner notes lovingly describe the Schumanns’ domestic life as far as it affected the music, and the entire package is not only worthy of respect but makes a case for a reappraisal of Schumann’s piano and orchestra music as a whole.