Accompanied the hr-Sinfonieorchester under the baton of the young Finnish conductor and cellist Klaus Mäkelä, the rising German pianist Martin Helmchen plays Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54. The concert was recorded at Alte Oper Frankfurt, on November 1, 2019.
In September 1840 Clara and Robert finally married. After years of producing one masterpiece for solo piano after another (his first twenty-three opus numbers are solo piano works) he turned gloriously to song, and in the space of a single year wrote something like 168 of them. Alongside his composing, he was editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. This didn't bring in much income, and he knew the time had come to prove himself with a big symphonic work. His first success in that field came with his "Spring" Symphony, sketched in just four days and premiered at the Gewandhaus on 31 March 1841 with Mendelssohn conducting.
Just over a month later, he began work on a Phantasy for piano and orchestra, again working with great speed and completing it in ten days. The following week he orchestrated it, and a few months later made some revisions. It was first played through during a rehearsal for his "Spring" Symphony at the Gewandhaus on 13 August 1841. The orchestra's concertmaster, Ferdinand David, conducted, and Clara, two weeks away from giving birth to their first child, was of course at the piano. In her diary she wrote: "I also played the Fantasie in A minor; unfortunately, the performer herself had little pleasure (in the empty auditorium, that is), she heard neither herself nor the orchestra. But I played it twice and found it wonderful! When properly rehearsed, it is certain to give audiences the greatest pleasure. The piano is superbly woven together with the orchestra – you cannot conceive of one without the other".
It seems, however, that nobody much wanted a one-movement work. Despite many attempts, a publisher could not be found and the work was put aside. Another four years passed before Schumann worked on it again. He generally immsersed himself in one genre at a time, and 1842 was his year for chamber music. His Piano Quintet Op.44, with its virtuoso piano part, served as a pseudo-concerto for Clara, still awaiting the real thing. In 1843 Schumann devoted himself to large-scale choral works, and the following year Robert and Clara undertook a five-month tour of Russia. Robert was seriously ill for some time after his return from Russia, and at the end of 1844 they moved to Dresden in order to find more peace and quiet to work.
When Schumann did finally turn his attention to his piano concerto once more, he started by composing the third movement finale, calling it a Rondo. Only after completing that did he write the Intermezzo that connects this with the original first movement (which he then revised). It also seems that the bridge passage connecting the Intermezzo with the Rondo gave him particular trouble (there exist seven different versions). We are all so familiar with this music now that it seems so evident, but it wasn't arrived at easily.
John Worthen in his excellent biography of Schumann notes how ironic it was that Schumann finally gave Clara "her" concerto at a time in her life when she could hardly practise. By now she had three children and knew a fourth was on its way (she was pregnant ten times in fourteen years), and because Robert needed silence to compose she could only practise when he took his afternoon walk. Often she was too exhausted by that time to get much work done, and her performances were not frequent. But finally she had her concerto, and the first performance was given in the Hôtel de Saxe in Dresden on 4 December 1845. Ferdinand Hiller, to whom the concerto is dedicated, conducted the orchestra of the subscription concerts.
The Concerto was a success, as was confirmed by the review in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung: "We all have reason to hold this composition in very high esteem and place it among the best by this composer, primarily because the usual monotony of the genre is happily avoided and the entirely obbligato orchestra part, fashioned with great love and care, is given its full due without leaving the impression of impairing the piano's achievements, and both parts keep up their independence in a beautiful alliance". The second performance (although it is often referred to mistakenly as the premiere) was given in the Leipzig Gewandhaus on New Year's Day 1846. There seems to be some confusion over who conducted: some sources say Mendelssohn, others say Niels Wilhelm Gade, who shared the conductor's duties at the time with his illustrious colleague.
Few pieces attract the attention of the audience so quickly as this Concerto. As Michael Steinberg so vividly writes: "The orchestra fires the starting gun, a single eighth-note [quaver] E, and the piano moves out of the blocks with a powerful cascade of fully voiced chords". The soloist, in fact, hardly stops playing during the entire concerto. The winds are given the initial statement of the opening melody, one in which the "Clara" motif of descending notes – abundantly used throughout Schumann's piano works – is fully apparent. There is no change of tempo marking here, even if the "tradition" is to slow down. The subsequent piano entry of the theme is powerfully expressive but intimate at the same time. The dialogue between piano and orchestra is constant, each taking their turn to be soloist and accompanist. This is most striking in the slower passage, marked Andante espressivo, in the middle of the first movement – a magical moment of repose, where the clarinet and piano are the featured soloists. It is interesting to compare the piano part in the central Più animato with what remains of that early Phantasy in A minor, where the writing is a lot more difficult in the later version. Perhaps Clara complained that it wasn't showy enough? The written-out cadenza is perfectly paced, and gave Clara the chance to shine. It begins with counterpoint, goes through some recitative-like passages, gains huge momentum with a brilliant outburst of chords over descending octaves, and returns passionately to the opening theme. From there the cadenza dissolves into a trill, but ends not with the standard cadence but rather leads directly into the re-entry of the orchestra, now giving us the theme much faster but in hushed tones. The crescendo to the final, uncompromising chords is dramatic to say the least.
Having written the last movement next, it is understandable that Schumann didn't want anything too "meaty" for the "slow" movement, when he finally got round to composing it. After the drama and shifting moods of the first movement, a short Intermezzo seems just the thing. Here, the notes of the first movement's descending motif are turned upside down and now go upwards, but the chamber-music feeling continues and is even amplified. The clarinet again features strongly, but so does the cello section, called upon to give us a "big tune". So often this central section can become distorted, wallowing in sentiment rather than retaining its confidentiality.
The bridge that Schumann finally settled on to link the Intermezzo with the finale returns to the "Clara" motif, first in the major, then in the minor, before bursting into the theme of the Allegro vivace. Here the ascending notes create a sense of unbounded joy. All the passagework in the piano part must sing and be heard. All that scurrying about in different keys during the most difficult moment of the Concerto – where Schumann inserts a prime example of his beloved rhythmic games, terrifying every conductor, even Mendelssohn himself it seems – must sound easy and coherent. And danceable. But what an exhilarating piece of music it is. Clara waited a long time for it, but it was worth it in the end.
Source: Angela Hewitt, 2012 (hyperion-records.co.uk)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
♪ Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54 (1841-1845)
i. Allegro affetuoso
ii. Intermezzo: Andantino grazioso
iii. Allegro vivace
Martin Helmchen, piano
hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra)
Conductor: Klaus Mäkelä
Alte Oper Frankfurt, November 1, 2019
“Nothing disconcerts the glorious, unshowy Martin Helmchen – the kind of performer who lifts his audiences up to heaven just by penetrating inside his music with nimble fingers, questing intelligence and a beating heart.” — The Times
Martin Helmchen has established himself as one of the prominent exceptional pianists of the younger generation. He performs with such orchestras as Berliner Philharmoniker under Herbert Blomstedt, Wiener Philharmoniker under Valery Gergiev, London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski, City of Birmigham Symphony Orchestra and Boston Symphony under Andris Nelsons and New York Philharmonic under Christoph von Dohnányi.
He also enjoys collaborations with conductors such as David Afkham, Marc Albrecht, Sir Mark Elder, Edward Gardner, Philippe Herreweghe, Manfred Honeck, Paavo Järvi, Emmanuel Krivine, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Christoph Poppen, Michael Sanderling and David Zinman.
His quest for exploring all facets of music-making is born in his passion for chamber music – which was largely ignited in early collaborations with the late cellist Boris Pergamenschikow. Helmchen's chamber music partners have included Juliane Banse, Matthias Goerne, Veronika Eberle, Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, Christian Tetzlaff, Antje Weithaas, Carolin Widmann and Frank Peter Zimmermann. He is a regular guest to London's Wigmore Hall.
Scandinavia is a focus of his 2018-2019 season, which includes his debut with Oslo Philharmonic, plus returns to the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Elsewhere, he debuts with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai / Italy and the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. Helmchen continues his close cooperation with the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin under Andrew Manze, and also returns to the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
He furthermore embarks on his Beethoven Cycle project with Frank Peter Zimmermann, which will span into 2019-2020, and features the duo in London, Berlin, Dresden, Freiburg, Warsaw, Madrid and Bilbao. To round off the season, he will additionally tour with Sabine Meyer and wind ensemble.
Martin Helmchen is an exclusive artist of Alpha Classics. Last year he released a solo CD of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, a CD of Schumann's chamber music featuring Marie-Elisabeth Hecker and Antje Weithaas, and a Duo CD of Brahms featuring Marie-Elisabeth Hecker. He has recorded numerous CDs for Pentatone Classics, which include piano concertos by Mozart, Schumann and Mendelssohn, as well as chamber music by Schubert, Schumann and Brahms.
Born in Berlin in 1982 and a former student of Galina Iwanzowa in Berlin, Helmchen continued his studies with Arie Vardie at the Hochschule für Musik Hannover. His other mentors include William Grant Naboré and Alfred Brendel. In 2001 he won the "Concours Clara Haskil" and in 2006 he was awarded the "Credit Suisse Young Artist Award". Since 2010, Martin Helmchen has been an Associate Professor of chamber music at the Kronberg Academy.
Klaus Mäkelä (b. 1996, Helsinki) has established a strong international presence through his instant musical connection with orchestras around the world. Mäkelä is Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor Designate of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and will assume the position at the beginning of the 2020-2021 season. He is also Principal Guest Conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Artist in Association with Tapiola Sinfonietta, and Artistic Director of the Turku Music Festival.
In the 2019-2020 season, Mäkelä makes his first appearances with the NDR Elbphilharmonie, Münchner Philharmoniker, Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Nederlands Radio Filharmonisch Orkest, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orquesta Nacional de España, London Philharmonic Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, The Hallé and Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He returns to the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, MDR Leipzig, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, The Minnesota Orchestra, NAC Ottawa, Gothenburg and Tokyo Metropolitan symphony orchestras, and Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne. Mäkelä also continues his tenures with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and Tapiola Sinfonietta where he has embarked on a Beethoven Cycle which will continue over the next two seasons. This seasons' concert programmes also include masterworks by Bruckner, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, and Debussy, Ravel and Berlioz.
Highlights from last season include appearances with Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre National de Lyon, Frankfurt Radio, Antwerp, Bern, and Malmö symphony orchestras, Bergen Philharmonic, Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse which have led to immediate and consistent re-invitations.
Also working in opera, Mäkelä made his operatic debut in with the Finnish National Opera conducting The Magic Flute and a concertante performance of Erkki Melartin’s Aino.
Mäkelä studied conducting at the Sibelius Academy with Jorma Panula and cello with Marko Ylönen, Timo Hanhinen and Hannu Kiiski. As a soloist, he has performed with Finnish orchestras such as the Lahti Symphony, Kuopio Symphony and Jyväskylä Sinfonia as well as appearing at many Finnish festivals including the Kuhmo Chamber Music and Naantali Music Festival. He plays a Giovanni Grancino cello from 1698, kindly made available to him by the OP Art Foundation.
Sauli Zinovjev: Un Grande Sospiro – Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, Klaus Mäkelä (HD 1080p)
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No.7 in C major "Leningrad" – hr-Sinfonieorchester, Klaus Mäkelä (HD 1080p)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No.9 in D minor "Choral" – Lauren Fagan, Hanna Hipp, Tuomas Katajala, Shenyang, Oslo Philharmonic Choir & Orcestra, Klaus Mäkelä (4K Ultra High Definition)
Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor – Hélène Grimaud, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, Thomas Hengelbrock
Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor – Jan Lisiecki, Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano
Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor – Nelson Freire, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Claus Peter Flor