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The Female in Music
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Variations on a Theme from Robert Schumann in F-sharp minor, Op 20 (1853) [12:58]
Tatjana KOMAROVA (b. 1968)
Sonata (1990) [11:12]
Fanny HENSEL (1805-1847)
Introduction and Capriccio in B minor (1839-1840) [7:04]
Margrit SCHENKER (b. 1954)
Palme mit Schnee (1999) [2:32]
Elizabetta de GAMBARINI (1731-1765)
Sonata in C major, Op 1 No 5 (1748) [8:12]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Carnaval, Op 9 (1837) [32:17]
Lisa Maria Schachtschneider (piano)
rec. 27-29 July 2020, Kulturzentrum Immanuel, Wuppertal, Germany

This very enterprising release from the young German pianist Lisa Maria Schachtschneider examines women composers from different ages, and ends with the one composer who was associated with Clara Schumann as her teacher, accompanist and husband: Robert Schumann.

The pianist writes in the booklet: ‘Feminae: The Female in Music is my contribution on the way to equality’. The inspiration comes from Clara Schumann’s bicentennial in 2019: ‘I had put together a recital program in which Clara was framed by fictional friends – in this case other composers. In terms of gender balance, men should not be neglected either of course, which is why I placed Clara’s beloved husband Robert Schumann’s Carnaval Op 9 next to her work.’

Lisa Maria Schachtschneider, born in Berlin, studied with Wolfgang Manz at the University of Music in Nuremburg, and with Bernd Glemser at the University of Music in Wurzburg. She was prize-winner in numerous national and international competitions in Italy and Germany. This debut recording is sponsored by the Rheintaler KulturStiftung. She plays here on a Bösendorfer 280 Vienna concert grand piano.

Clara Schumann is arguably the most celebrated woman composer of the 19th century. She combined creativity with a formidably active musical career, teaching and performing widely throughout Europe. From her amazing Piano Concerto written at the age of fourteen, she could have developed into an even more important composer. The burden of bringing up her children after Robert’s death put a halt to her writing. The Variations were composed one year before her husband was hospitalised after attempting to commit suicide. They are in memory of the Robert Schumann that she had fallen in love with when she was a teenager. The opening, typically poignant and touchingly gentle, contrasts with the emerging sinister theme, and again with a glittering idea in the fourth variation. The pianist plays all of these like little gems. There is more stunningly glorious playing in the seventh variation, which shows how much she engages with Clara Schumann’s musicality.

Tatjana Komarova was born in Brest in Belorussia to musical parents; her father Vladimir is a composer. She studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Nikolay Sidelnikov. When she was 22, she met with the German pianist Lars Vogt who inspired her first significant work – this Sonata which she wrote in the summer of 1990. Shea has continued to develop her career in Germany. The piece is dedicated to Vogt, her first husband. Under Schachtschneider’s fingers, Komarova’s piece is like a string of pearls from a necklace. The diverse emotions of solitude clash against sharp dissonances, all as if emerging from the darkness. The pace comes and goes, with strange silences between the notes, like Bartók nocturnes, while the passions switch from sensuality to fulfillment, from hesitancy to rushing jazz-like rhythms.

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel wrote over 450 compositions, many of them for voice or for piano. Her extraordinary gifts were blighted by her early death in 1847, just months before her brother Felix died. Her music is noted for a wonderful singing quality, one of the reasons of this work’s popularity. In the Introduction, the opening wonderful theme sings as if for the human voice, while the secondary gorgeous, beguiling idea is brought out beautifully, showing all the colours in the harmonies. In the Capriccio, one can hear arresting brilliant colours, brought out by exhilarating keyboard playing for the right hand.

The composer Margrit Schenker, born near Zurich, studied piano and composition in Winterthur and Zurich. She is an active pianist, accordionist and organist, and writes for diverse ensembles. She writes in a preface to her collection Baumklang: ‘the study of external nature brought us into contact with our inner nature’. Palme mit Schnee (A Palm with Snow), Schenker’s musical miniature, is meditative, slow. Ideas start and then disappear, stopping around almost instantly.

Elisabetta de Gambarini was an extraordinarily gifted 18th century English composer. She wrote amazingly much: opera, cantatas, harpsichord pieces and songs. She herself was a mezzo-soprano, and performed in several Handel operas including Judas Maccabeus and Samson. Regrettably, like Hensel, she died young. Schachtschneider’s playing in the opening Vivace is beautiful in lightly jocular Haydnesque style. The Sicilian Andante is richly melodic, and charming beauties are unfurled marvellously. In the Spiritoso, the mood is suitably bright, upbeat, and playful, while harmonies are all splendidly rhythmic as if sparkling little gems were spinning from the keyboard. As I understand, this is the first recording of this neglected Baroque woman composer’s sonata on a modern concert grand piano.

The first half of this programme features little-known works by woman composers. That in itself makes this disc notable but it is Robert Schumann’s Carnaval that really makes this new release worthy of a recommendation. Many of the finest musicians have recorded this repertoire piece but few will have made as fine a debut as this by the German pianist. Schachtschneider is impressive in the Préambule, where she handles the themes brilliantly, and especially in Pierrot with her imposing playing. In Arlequin, she produces eloquently brilliant and tuneful playing, and in the Valse noble creates lovely atmospheric playing. In Eusebius, the naïve, intimate, loving writing is somewhat contrasted by Florestan, colourful and humorous, impulsive and impassioned. In Coquette, the idiom is brilliantly playful, as it is in Réplique. The shadow of darkness appears in the three numbers of Sphinxes. In Papillons there is the zest of life, and in the Lettres Dansantes engaging play at the keyboard. Chiarina is magnificently interpreted. All of that is contrasted by the homage to Chopin, appropriately reflective and sad. The animation of Reconnaissance is wonderful, full of life’s joys, yet in Pantalon et Columbine the playing switches to a brisk tempo, and is quite brilliant in its execution. Schachtschneider’s Valse is elegiac, noble and somewhat wistful, and in the tribute to Paganini, the tone is strikingly impressive. The marvellous Promenade is stately and mannered, and in the Marche des ‘Davidsbündler’, the magnificent playing brings out all the brilliance of the score and – most importantly – the humanity of the feelings and the shifts of human nature.

Not everyone spans the bridge between technical brilliance and a portrayal of the composer’s personality, the emotions and humanity. Lisa Maria Schachtschneider does exactly that. This is an outstanding recording debut of a brilliant young German pianist. Highly recommended.

Gregor Tassie
Previous review: Dominy Clements

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