In this ECM New Series album, cellist Christoph Richter takes on an extraordinarily challenging program, both for him as a performer as well as for his listeners. The disc opens with Clara Schumann's Drei Romanzen, originally for violin and piano. These rich, charming works are a prime example of Clara's command over melody that was at least equal to that of her husband; on this album, however, they serve more as a stand-in for the Romances written by Robert that were subsequently destroyed by Clara to prevent their posthumous publication. Next on the program are the works of Heinz Holliger, a composer whose own works are greatly inspired by Clara, Robert, and indeed their friend Brahms as well. Holliger's Romances go so far as to tell a story of Robert's bygone composition and their ultimate destruction. Relying heavily on extended techniques, Romancendres is a cerebral and challenging work to digest following Clara Schumann's Romantic contribution, but the detailed liner notes help connect Holliger's work with Schumann's in a meaningful and enjoyable way. Richter proves himself to be an exceptionally versatile musician, delivering a beautiful, warm tone in the Schumann, contrasting with an appropriately dry, clear sensibility in the Holliger.
Holliger's homage to Schumann continues with the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart, the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, and their eerie performance of Gesänge der Frühe, a highly contrasting piece to Schumann's work of the same title. The text includes ominous excerpts of letters regarding Schumann's death and even pathology reports. Regrettably, the liner notes do not provide listeners with an English translation of the text. Both of Holliger's compositions on this album are intriguing and credit is due for his innovative bridging of the centuries, but his style of composition may not be suited for the casual listener