Lara Downes / Martin West / San Francisco Ballet Orchestra

For Love of You: Clara & Robert Schumann

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Pianist Lara Downes has specialized in recordings that embody some kind of narrative, often involving jazz and popular selections along with standard classical repertory. This time there's no jazz or pop, but the narrative is equally strong. For the Love of You is one of several albums that appeared in 2019 commemorating the 200th anniversary of Clara Wieck Schumann's birth. Casually scanning the options in a CD bin or web page, you might conclude that you'd get more bang for your buck elsewhere: Clara Schumann, represented only the Three Romances, Op. 11, makes up about 17 percent of the total. The rest consists of Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, and Fantasiestücke, Op. 12. However, that's just the beauty of it: Downes, taking her album title from a letter written by Robert to Clara in 1838, presents the music of both composers as a kind of intense creative partnership, and more than that, as the result of an extremely passionate love affair. Most remarkable, and worth the price of admission by itself, is Downes' reading of the Piano Concerto. It is well enough known that the concerto was written at Clara's urging that Robert expand his one-movement Fantasy into a full three-movement piano concerto. Pianists often leave it at that; Downes instead asks pianistically what it might mean. Her supposition that Clara had input into the music is reasonable enough. After all, plenty of other Romantic concertos involved some compositional collaboration with their first performers. The result diverges completely from the heroic (often male but often enough not) readings of this concerto that have become the standard. Downes respects the Allegro affettuoso tempo marking of the first movement, and the Allegro vivace of the last. Even better, though she drops the heroic aspect, she doesn't drop the turbulence, and the first movement (sample this) seems full of currents of emotion that might belong to either member of the partnership. These currents define the entire program. The Clara Schumann Romances are unusually intense, with their chromatic aspect highlighted, and the Fantasiestücke, where Downes does turn on the power, have the feeling of a declaration of love. In the Piano Concerto, Downes pulls along the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, a group that rarely plays abstract orchestral music, with remarkable coherence. In all, an exceptional Schumann recording.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54
1 14:49 Amazon
2 05:39 Amazon
3 11:11 Amazon
Three Romances, Op. 11
4 02:46 Amazon
5 05:22 Amazon
6 04:06 Amazon
Fantasiestücke, Op. 12
7 03:06 Amazon
8 03:15 Amazon
9 02:40 Amazon
10 02:50 Amazon
11 04:02 Amazon
12 02:29 Amazon
13 02:46 Amazon
14 04:28 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick