SCHUMANN Piano Quintet (trans. Clara Schumann);
Piano Quartet (trans. Brahms)
LA BOTTEGA DISCANTICA 210 (54:28)
In the nineteenth century, it was commonplace to find a piano in the homes of upper-class, of educated, of middle-class, and of musically-inclined families. Access to classical music performance, however, was impeded for all by limitations in transportation and by absence of electronic technology. Thus, the practice of piano reduction (or transcription) of symphonic and chamber works became common not only to popularize such music but also just to make it available in some accessible form. Such piano reductions were made by both lesser and greater musicians, and by many in-between. For reductions that were better served by two pianos, the practical compromise was four hands at one piano. Here we have four-hands piano reductions of two of Robert Schumann’s greatest chamber works by one illustrious pianist – Clara, his wife – and by another illustrious pianist and even more illustrious composer – Brahms, his friend. These chamber works, both of which are in EI, were composed almost in succession (opus 44 for the Quintet and opus 47 for the Quartet). They offer a rewarding and an instructive experience in transcription for piano four-hands. The rewarding experience is that of a different sound of familiar material, and the instructive experience is that of an insightful look at familiar part-structure in a different light. Both the reward and the instruction are the creations of two master transcribers. I hear Brahms’ result as more creative than Clara Schumann’s. I mean this solely as a comparative statement, with no absolute judgment intended. The Palmas Duo, the brother-and-sister team of Cristina and Luca Palmas, was formed in 1998. They both studied in San Marino (the “independent” Republic that is part of Italy) and have performed together and separately throughout Europe. In the performances on this disc, they display excellent musicianship in terms of dynamics and phrasing, with meticulous attention to the partwriting so important in these two chamber works. This CD is certainly one to have for its uniqueness of musical material and its excellent performance qualities.