The fifth in a series of eight concerts that Giancarlo Tammaro has organised with such loving care.A recital by Sara Costa with the genial title of ‘Relations and Variations ‘ promoting her recent CD of piano works by Clara and Robert Schumann.A very clever mixture of compositions from the love triangle of Clara,Robert and Johannes.
This is the tenth edition of an annual series of concerts that were born in the Villa d Este in Tivoli for the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt.The star of these concerts is the 1879 Erard piano lovingly restored,allowing the extraordinary sound of this preferred piano of Liszt to be heard once again in the hills overlooking Rome where Liszt was a regular visitor whilst on the ‘Grand tour’ or taking holy orders in Rome.
Every year Ing.Tammaro produces a comprehensive programme full of fascinating information about the composers and the soloists not to mention their link with the hills around Rome.
Now in the last few years the concerts have taken place in the restored sixteenth century Carmelite Convent in Velletri.And what an oasis of culture it is!A haven of peace,beautifully restored,and the ideal place to house Ing Tammaro’s much loved Erard piano.
Whilst all around on the plains below the beaches are full of holidaymakers enjoying the sun,we are able to listen on Sunday mornings from April to July to some remarkable young performers.An eclectic choice of programmes not only on a historic instrument but with sophisticated video cameras that allow us to appreciate -up close- the artistry of the artists as they bring the instrument back to life.This year the ‘theme’ is dedicated to ‘nearly all’ female performers to compensate for their unintentional exclusion from many of the previous editions.So not only some very fine female artists but also a revaluation of two female composers in particular :Clara Wieck Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn.
Axel Trolese was the only exception this year as Ing Tammaro wanted to help launch his new CD dedicated to Albeniz and his concert coincided with the exact birthday of the composer on the 29th May.Axel is also a local ‘lad’ from the nearby town of Genzano who after his studies with many great masters is ready himself for international recognition.
The Variations on a theme of Schumann op 20 is one of the last Clara composed for piano and opened this fascinating programme today.Clara had presented the variations to Robert for his 43rd birthday in 1853,the last he was to spend at home with his family.He died in a mental institution only three years later.Clara having written many works before her marriage since when her family and concertising took up all her time.She had born Robert eight children!So it was with hesitation that she dedicated this work to Robert based on one of his ‘Bunte Blatter’ op 99 n. 4 (Inspired by this example, Brahms composed his own Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann Op.9 and dedicated them to Clara).The Theme and seven variations immediately showed off not only the artistry of Sara but also her musicianship as she built up the variations whether they be in great octaves ,ravishing jeux perlé embellishments or the beauty of harp like arpeggios spread over the entire keyboard.Always there was the harmonic structure born on the bass that gave her such freedom and at the same time a sense of architectural line where each variation grew out of the previous.There was a coda of rare atmosphere and subtle beauty of refined playing where the mellow tones of this piano just added to the overall melancholy voice of this final gift of Clara to her beloved Robert.
Following Schumann’s move to the Rhine, where he had become the musical director of the Düsseldorf Music Society, times became hard for him. Despite several initial successes, he increasingly encountered resistance from notabilities, musicians and the public. He thus worked all the more intensively at home on his new works. “R. has composed three piano pieces of a very serious, passionate character, which greatly please me”, Clara Schumann wrote in her diary in September 1851. Three contrasting pieces op 111 are gradually making their way more often into the concert hall .I had first heard them when Cherkassky played them in my series in Rome as a prelude to the Liszt Sonata.The ‘assai vivace’ is a whirlwind of continuous outpouring of romantic sounds played with great rhythmic energy and sweep.Contrasting with the ‘piuttosto lento’ of Schubertian character played with a very subtle sense of line of mellifluous sensitivity.Her sense of balance allowed the melodic line to be shaped with ravishing care and beauty.The bucolic Con forza was played with rhythmic energy but always with a sense of melodic line with its boisterous tenor melody passing to the soprano with Schubertian elegance.
Widmung is much more than a mere showpiece – containing the most passionate music full of heartfelt feelings. Written by Robert Schumann in 1840 ,it is the first from a set of Lieder called Myrthen, Op.25 dedicated to Clara Wieck as a wedding gift when finally he married her in September 1840,despite the opposition from Clara’s father (who was also Robert’s piano teacher). It was later arranged for piano solo by Franz Liszt. It starts with a flowing sense of pulse, while the first phrase (“Du meine Seele, du mein Herz”) already captures Schumann’s love for Clara and devotion to the relationship. Here, Schumann sincerely confesses to Clara, declaring how important she is to him. For him, Clara is his angel, his spiritual support, and his entire world. Nevertheless, there is still a sense of fear and insecurity in the music, due to separation and uncertainty about their future. This complex mixture of feelings, as a true and full-bodied representation of love, certainly strengthens the emotional power of the music.Liszt lengthened the first section by repeating the first theme, but with the melodic line mostly embedded in left hand (with some intertwining) and accompaniment in higher register. Then, the music moves on to the chordal section in E major, which is unchanged in Liszt’s arrangement. The repeated chords convey warmth, tenderness and peace, especially when the text here is associated with death and heaven. Here, the love has changed into everlasting, eternal one – love that transcends space and time.Schumann’s love for Clara becomes so dramatic and uncontrollable, and eventually erupts – a perfect combination of rapture, passion, commitment and sense of elevation. With ecstatic joy, the music transforms into a declaration, as if Schumann is announcing that he is determined to spend the rest of his lifetime with Clara and willing to make sacrifices in the face of adversity, for Clara is an indescribable miracle of his life.
Sara played it with a gentle fluidity with sensitivity and forward movement like a a great wave as her circular movements became ever more agitated the passionate outpourings of great virtuosity spread over the entire keyboard.The great climax dissolving to a mere whisper as this miniature tone poem had run it’s loving course and there was left only the refined gentle caresses of Sara Costa’s true artistry.
The Handel Variations were written in September 1861 after Brahms, aged 28, abandoned the work he had been doing as director of the Hamburg women’s choir (Frauenchor) and moved out of his family’s cramped and shabby apartments in Hamburg to his own apartment in the quiet suburb of Hamm, initiating a highly productive period that produced “a series of early masterworks”.Written in a single stretch in September 1861,the work is dedicated to a “beloved friend”, Clara Schumann, widow of Robert Schumann.It was presented to her on her 42nd birthday, September 13 1861.Barely two months later, in November 1861, he produced his second set of Schumann Variations, Op. 23, for piano four hands.
A performance of great power and architectural shape where the sound was always built up from the bass leaving such freedom but at the same time an anchor of such solidity.It had been the hallmark of a fellow student of my old piano teacher Sidney Harrison at the Royal Academy in London.Norma Fisher was already a very highly esteemed pianist when I was taken to hear her play this very work at the Wigmore Hall and was presented to her afterwards in the Green Room.Our mutual father figure was proud to present her the newly awarded Liszt Scholar!Sara Costa in the Green Room today greeted me with the name of our mutual friend Norma Fisher! Small world,our old teacher would have exclaimed!Sara had studied this very work with her during her studies at the Royal College of Music where she is now a highly sought after pedagogue. https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2022/05/12/norma-fisher-at-steinway-hall-the-bbc-recordings-on-wings-of-song-the-story-continues/. There was the same solidity to her playing and a sumptuous rich orchestral sound where the minutest details whilst being played with great sensitivity never took away from the overall shape with the underlying wave giving a sense of direction.I slightly missed the mechanical statement of the Aria where the ornaments should unwind like clockwork springs as this is the theme that Brahms will elaborate in so many different ways.Maybe it was the mellow sound of the piano that here did not have the radiant brilliance that we are used to hearing .It was immediately put to rights though with the very crisp and clear first variation contrasting with the legato forward flow of the second.The shaking of hands in the third was done as Brahms indicates -scherzando and dolce and led to the technical prowess of the ‘risoluto’ octaves played with great drive but being orchestral I would have made them more marcato than staccato.There was great sweep to the fifth variation that led to the delicacy of the legato octaves of the seventh.She brought great nervous energy to the staccato drive of the seventh and eighth leading to the imperious gasps of sustained octaves.The chase from the top to the bottom of the keyboard was done with great brilliance in the tenth variation with the gently expressive eleventh and twelfth before the grandiloquence of the ‘ Largamente ma non troppo ‘ of the thirteenth.Startling technical feats abound in the following variations played with a real sense of character and shape gently arriving at the lilting Scottish dance rhythm of the nineteenth.There was beautiful luminosity of sound in the music box variation before the scintillating drive to the triumphant outpouring of the theme in all its glory.Some extraordinary playing of infectious drive and fearless virtuosity.The clarity of the fugue played almost without pedal at the beginning as it gradually built to a tumultuous climax of quite transcendental difficulty.The extraordinary thing is that we were never aware of the hurdles she was tackling such was the overall sweep and excitement that she was able to generate.An ovation from a very enthusiastic audience was rewarded by another great outpouring of song of great beauty and sensitivity,choosing another from one of Schumann’s last collection of pieces ‘Coloured leaves’- Bunte Blatter