Violist Gillian Rogell, mezzo-soprano Colleen Palmer, and pianist Roberto Poli gave a warm and well-received recital on at the Rivers School Conservatory entitled “Inneren Stimmen: A journey into the inner voices of Romanticism, Robert Schumann and his circle.” The title was rife with multiple meanings; the viola is generally the inner voice of any ensemble, the inner thoughts of artists informs their performances, the inner intent of the composer is concealed or revealed by the performance. All were well delineated and explored in this thoughtfully put together program of works by Robert Schumann, his wife Clara Wieck, and their mutual friend, Johannes Brahms. With emphasis on death, Sturm und Drang in the music, and incipient chromaticism, these works give a fine sampling of German Romanticism at its best.
Sunday’s performance started with a transcription of the Allegro non troppo first movement of Brahms’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in E Minor, Op. 38. This version came across as veiled and romantic, not passionate or intense, as it can be sometime played. The performers’ transcription is a welcome addition to the viola repertoire.
A Romanze for Viola & Piano in D-flat, Op. 22 No. 1 by Clara Wieck is undeservedly obscure and should be heard more often! The viola weaves its melody through the piano part in such a lovely way that the performers “took a repeat that isn’t written in”.
Two of the Liederkreis for Mezzo-soprano, Op. 39 by Robert Schumann featured Palmer. Though slight, her voice is powerful and beautiful, with a coppery shimmer. One had the sense she could fill a much larger room if she chose. The first song, X. “Zwielicht” was dark and menacing, speaking of dusk spreading its wings and trees rustling ominously. V. “Mondnacht” beautifully described a moonlit scene. Poli was able to make the almost single melodic line accompaniment convey deep emotion.
Originally written for French horn, Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro in A-flat Major for Viola and Piano, Op. 70 is rather reminiscent of Brahms’s viola sonatas, and comes from a congenial period of Schumann’s life after his marriage, when he was writing chamber music for performance among friends. Nicely done.
After a brief intermission, the performers returned for a lovely version of Brahms’s Two Songs for Mezzo-soprano, Viola and Piano, op. 91. The first, “Gestillte Sehnsucht,” (stilled longing), again channels forests, birds, evening breezes, and all the requisite romantic imagery. The second, “Geistliches Wiegenlied,” uses the German folk song, “Josef, lieber Josef, mein,” as an obligato; while nominally a cradle song, the affect is darker, as the mother begs the cold wind to be still so her tired child can sleep. Here Rogell showed how sensitively she can collaborate, and how sure is her footing as an “inner voice.”The viola supported the vocal, both by hovering beneath it, then at times twining vine-like around it. These songs are deceptively simple-sounding, yet technically quite challenging. This was a very good performance.
The final work offered a unique kind of transcription in which inner lines of a piano work were teased out to create a very thoughtful viola part in Schumann’s Fantasy for Piano in C Major, Op. 17. Very intriguing and extremely well-executed, it crowned the program with glory
The packed house was deeply appreciative of such an illuminating glimpse into a musical moment in time.