Märchenbilder - Uhde, Wellisch
Ars Produktion ARS 38 325
Classical - Chamber
Schumann: Märchenbilder, Fantasisestücke
Schubert: Arpeggione Sonata
Grieg: Solveig's Song
Tatjana Uhde (cello)
Lisa Wellische (piano)
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Review by Mark Werlin - October 4, 2021
In this splendid new recording, cellist Tatjana Uhde and pianist Lisa Wellisch interpret a program of 19th-century chamber works with acute sensitivity to the cultural traditions that underlay the compositions.
The German term “volkston” translates poorly into English. To begin with, there is no direct equivalent to “volk” that captures the sense in which it was understood by German speakers at the time when a national identity was forming. But its importance to the development of classical music can be witnessed in the ways composers embraced “volkston” (roughly, “folk style”), transforming the common melodies and song forms of the people into thematic material for art music. In pianist Lisa Wellisch’s succinct introduction to the ARS Produktion SACD “Märchenbilder” (“fairy tale pictures”), she quotes the 18th century folklorist Johann Abraham Peter Schulz:
“In the appearance of the familiar lies the whole secret of the Volkston.”
The composers, Schubert, Schumann, Grieg and Juon, engage with the secret in a variety of ways. For Schubert, the challenge was to write for a newly-created musical instrument, the six-stringed, fretted, arpeggione—an oversized, unwieldy bowed guitar. That he undertook to write one of the most technically challenging and lengthy works for a string instrument and piano up to his time, suggests that the volkston spell operated at a deep level of his creative consciousness. It fell to cellists and violists to rescue the Arpeggione Sonata from the neglect that befell the instrument for which it was originally composed, and today, the Sonata is standard repertoire for cello and piano.
Compared to one of the best-known recordings of the Sonata (Schubert, Schumann, Debussy - Rostropovich, Britten), the present recording reflects the shift towards historically-informed performance style while embracing the traditions of Romanticism out of which the Sonata emerged. The use of a Bösendorfer concert grand piano sets this performance outside the strict confines of historical authenticity; lightness of touch, responsiveness to currents of emotional nuance, and purity of string tone especially distinguishes Uhde/Wellisch from Rostropovich/Britten.
The short pieces by Robert Schumann illustrate the influence of volkston in 19th century composing. Folk legends, fairy tales, and heroic journeys figure prominently in Romantic-era fiction and poetry; the mood of the otherworldly finds form in compositions that draw on folklore literature and folk music sources. Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op. 73 can be heard in performances for clarinet, violin, viola, cello, or bass with piano, so attractive are these works, and so effectively is the folk style conveyed by any of these instrumental combinations. In my own SACD library are the present recording for cello and piano, a performance on clarinet (Black Bird - Fors / Bjelland), and the astonishing TRPTK recording of bassist Luis Cabrera (Canto Interno - Cabrera, Maj, Huang). The Märchenbilder Op. 113, are more often performed by viola and piano.
Tatjana Uhde, principal cellist of the Paris National Opera and a frequent chamber music performer, and pianist Lisa Wellisch, whose academic specialization and ongoing musical activity is the accompaniment of lieder singers, convey the songlike character of Schumann’s melodies; the legato phrases feel like complete breaths. Listen closely, and you can hear the “voice” of the cello, and the voices of the “volk”, beneath.
The recording by Manfred Schumacher was done in January, 2021 at Kulturzentrum Immanuel to his usual high sonic standards. The round, overtone-rich character of the Bösendorfer piano supports but never overwhelms Uhde’s 1852 French cello.
Producer Annette Schumacher should be commended for bringing to the attention of classical music listeners these talented and accomplished performers, who find new values in familiar repertoire.
For further exploration of volkston works, in high resolution and on period instruments:
Schubert: Piano Trio and Arpeggione Sonata: Erich Hobath, violin; Alexander Rudin, arpeggione and cello; Aapo Häkinnen, fortepiano.
Schumann: Fantasies and Fairy Tales: Asko Heiskanen, clarinet; Aapo Häkinnen, fortepiano; Reka Szilway, violin; Dmitri Sinkovsky, viola; Alexander Rudin, cello.
Both albums were produced and engineered in Finland by Mikko Murtoniemi, and have excellent sound quality in 24/96 resolution. The arpeggione, in the expert hands of cellist Alexander Rudin, produces a distinctly Viennese sound, with a sharp attack and a steely timbre.
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