by John Pitt
Clara Schumann was an outstanding pianist and composer, as well as a pioneer who had a large impact on the history of music. She was a child prodigy, learning early from her father, Friedrich Wieck, a famous German piano teacher. At the tender age of 13, Clara became one of the first pianists to perform from memory and her influence over a 61-year concert career changed the format and repertoire of the piano recital She also composed a works that include piano concertos, chamber music and choral pieces. Clara was married to and supported an even more famous composer, Robert Schumann, who she first met when she was only eight years old. Together they maintained a close relationship with Johannes Brahms (she was the first to perform publicly many works by Brahms). Ukrainian-born American pianist Inna Faliks is a passionately committed artist who has made a name for herself through poetic and commanding performances of standard piano repertoire, genre-bending interdisciplinary projects and inquisitive work with Contemporary composers. She is Professor of Piano and Head of the Piano Department at UCLA and has performed on many of the world’s great stages, with orchestras, in solo appearances and in highly regarded chamber music groups. As she says in her sleeve notes to this outstanding and thought-provoking CD, ‘Juxtaposing two large scale works by Clara Schumann (née Wieck) and Robert Schumann on a recording will certainly invite comparisons between them; however, my aim in The Schumann Project series is to simply unite, on each album, two or more works by kindred souls. How different the dynamics of this ‘power couple’ of the 19th century might be today if one were to imagine Robert and Clara as equal partners in life.’
Inna Faliks gives a warm and expressive performance of the beautiful Piano Sonata in G minor written by Clara, at the age of 22. Never performed during her lifetime, it was first published in 1991, so is not well known. Nevertheless, the sonata marked an important early step in her compositional development between her two other larger-scale works, the Piano Concerto in A minor (which Faliks performed with the Chicago Symphony when she was 15 years old) and the Piano Trio in G minor. Robert Schumann’s large-scale Symphonic Études are among his most difficult compositions to perform but Inna Faliks plays this dramatic, powerful music here with tremendous verve and sensitivity, revealing both her mastery of the piano and her deep understanding of the composer’s work. This impressive first volume in The Schumann Project is highly recommended and will leave listeners eager to discover what further insights future releases in the series may bring. ‘Her quiet, breathless opening of the staccato Étude 9, marked Presto possibile, puts Faliks is in a league with some of the greatest pianists to record this work.’ – Fanfare.