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Maria Sournatcheva (oboe)
Alexander Shaikin (piano)
rec. 2018, Konzerthaus der Abtei, Marienmünster, Germany
MDG 903 2073-6 SACD [53:37]

This is a charming disc and one that not only brings together the music of Robert and Clara Schumann but also that of Brahms. He had been recommended to them by Joseph Joachim on the 1st October 1853 and became a lifelong friend and support to the Schumanns, especially during their time of need after Robert’s attempted suicide.

The disc is notable for not only presenting chamber music, sometimes in arrangement, but we also get songs in sensitive arrangements where the oboe takes the vocal line with beauty. The sound of Maria Sournatcheva’s playing is so akin to the human voice it brings new insights into this music. The disc opens with Robert Schumann’s wonderful Adagio and Allegro for Horn and Piano, one of my favourite pieces for the instrument from the romantic period. The oboe sits nicely in this music, with the character of the original coming through well. The following piece is Three Romances for Violin and Piano, which I reviewed in the wonderful recording by Tasmin Little and John Lenehan (CHAN 20030) earlier this year. They are played wonderfully well here too, with the oboe still clearly able to bring out Robert’s influence in this music, especially in the first of the three. The most famous of the three chamber works presented in this disc are Robert Schumann’s justly celebrated Three Romances for Oboe and Piano – the composer’s only work for oboe. Here the performance is as good as I have heard, sensitive and bright, a lovely recording.

What follows is something that seems out of place, meaning a recording of Robert Schumann’s Arabeske Op. 18, composed in 1839 when he was 29 years old. It is given a nice performance by Alexander Shaikin on the piano, no oboe here and so, it seems as if it has been included to add time to the recording.

The transcriptions of the songs contain some wonderful interpretations but it is the sound of the oboe that makes them work so well; the vocal abilities of the instrument really coming through in these performances. The versions of the Brahms’s songs, especially Von ewiger Liebe and Verzagen, are quite lovely in their tender depiction of undying love. The same can be said of the two Robert Schumann songs presented here in sympathetic arrangements. The version of Stille Tränen is enchanting whilst the sense of ‘Dedication’ comes through well in the final and eponymous track on this disc Widmung, which Schumann dedicated to his bride Clara Wieck and presented her on September 12, 1840, their wedding day. This piece makes a fitting conclusion to the disc.

The performances throughout are quite wonderful, with the playing of Maria Sournatcheva giving great expression to these pieces. Her tonal quality and breath control are excellent, especially in the slower and quieter sections where she effortlessly holds the slow tempos and sustained passages. The playing of Alexander Shaikin is also excellent, specifically in the chamber pieces and songs. The recorded sound of this hybrid SACD disc is admirable and allows every nuance of this music to emerge clearly. Unusually, for an MDG recording, the booklet leaves out some important information, allowing the reader to think that all these arrangements are by the composers in question. Despite this minor issue, it is a lovely recording and one that brings new life to old favourites.

Stuart Sillitoe
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Adagio and Allegro op. 70
1 I Langsam, mit innigem Ausdruck [2:56]
2 II Rasch und feurig [4:16]
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896
Three Romances for violin and piano op. 22
3 No. 1 Andante molto [2:51]
4 No. 2 Allegretto [2:38]
5 No. 3 Leidenschaftlich schnell [3:52]
6 Arabeske op. 18 [6:24]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
7 Serenade op. 58,8 [3:16]
8 Regenlied op. 59,3 [4:08]
9 Stille Tränen op. 35,10 [3:33]
Johannes BRAHMS
10 Von ewiger Liebe op. 43,1 [4:01]
Three Romances for oboe and piano op. 94
11 No. 1 Nicht schnell [3:16]
12 No. 2 Einfach innig [3:50]
13 No. 3 Nicht schnell [4:23]
Johannes BRAHMS
14 Verzagen op. 72,4 [2:23]
15 Widmung [2:00]

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