TWIN SPIRITS: Portraying the Love of Robert & Clara Schumann in Words & Music.
Sting (Robert Schumann "in words"); Simon Keenlyside (Robert
Schumann "in song"); Trudie Styler (Clara Wieck "in words");
Rebecca Evans (Clara Wieck "in song"); Derek Jacobi (narrator);
Sergei Krylov (violin); Natalie Clein (cello); Iain Burnside (piano); Natasha
Paremski (piano); Martin Ward (musical arrangements); "devised and
directed for the stage" by John Caird.
Opus Arte OA 0984 D DVD (2 disks) TT: 246:04
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Better than you'd expect. This entertainment comes out of a charity event
held at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. If you don't blink, you
can see Alfred Brendel schmoozing before the curtain goes up. Basically,
pairs the music of Robert and Clara Schumann with their writings to and
about one another (with side trips to Mozart and Chopin). The texts and
notes don't line up chronologically, but emotionally. The words, from
letters and diaries (particularly the so-called "marriage" diary which
they kept jointly), chronicle the couple from pre-courtship to Robert's
insanity and death, with a bit on Clara's long widowhood. A whiff of the "high-class" charity
event lingers a little over the enterprise. Frankly, when I saw Sting's
name, I muttered, "God save us from arty rockers." However, Sting
surprised me. His delivery was intelligent, understated, with just enough "characterization" that
you felt the presence of another personality, perhaps even Schumann's.
In other words, he convinced me. It's the professional actors -- Jacobi
and Styler -- that I occasionally caught "acting." Jacobi at
times became a Masterpiece Theatre compère, while Styler here and
there over-emoted. Her young Clara Wieck was a little too cute. However,
Jacobi's lines functioned simply for set-ups and connections, and Styler
became genuinely moving as Clara bears the family catastrophe.
However, the real glory of the evening lies -- don't be too surprised
-- in the music and the performances. Evans does well with her songs,
she occasionally slips into opera mode. Burnside supplies sensitive accompaniments
-- a pro who knows his Schumann. The cellist Natalie Clein . . . well,
I couldn't concentrate too well on her music-making, she's so gorgeous
-- a bit like the young Argerich. What I did get showed a fiery but musical
personality. She's wonderful in chamber music. American pianist Natasha
Paremski negotiated some fiendish passage-work from Clara's piano concerto
with spirit and aplomb. Violinist Sergei Krylov seemed uncomfortable
in a chamber setting, but he certainly set the tone of the playing. You
accuse him of bland good taste or timidity. However, baritone Simon Keenlyside
stood out. I've heard few better Lieder singers. Furthermore,
his duet with Evans in Mozart's "Là ci darem" from Don
Giovanni provided the musical highpoint of the enterprise
-- silkily seductive and a better aphrodisiac than oysters (though not
as tasty). It strikes me
as ironic that Mozart beats out Schumann in a Schumann documentary --
home-field advantage notwithstanding.
The music, for the most part, serves the drama. Sometimes, we get abbreviations
or cutoffs so the readings may continue. At other times, piano pieces
have been "orchestrated" for the instrumental ensemble and at least
one solo song turned into a duet. However, Martin Ward displays great taste,
even in a chamber arrangement of something like ”Träumerei" --
a trap that can lead to sugar coma if you don't take care.
Some of the best bits come from the bonus disc, which contains, among
other things, interviews with the musicians and the actors as well as
documentary made at the Schumann-Haus in Zwickau, the composer's birthplace.
John Caird serves as interlocutor. As he talks with the actors, it becomes
clear that the group brings contemporary cultural perspectives to the
marriage. Clara becomes the put-upon mother of the brood, while Robert
doing as he pleases -- writing symphonies and music criticism, preparing
to conduct, and so on. This really doesn't survive a moment's thought.
Clara, one of the greatest pianists of her day, was the primary breadwinner
(one of her tours paid the family's expenses for three years) and had
plenty of domestic help. She couldn't have practiced otherwise, and she
challenging programs. Don't get me wrong. She had plenty to put up with
otherwise from Schumann, who among other things couldn't bear extraneous
noise while he worked. I don't remember how they worked it out. She may
have had to practice off-premises or Schumann may have composed off-premises.
At any rate, musicologist Daniel Gallagher sits in and occasionally and
gently puts things right. I should point out that these are extremely
informal conversations among intelligent people. My favorite moment comes
Natasha Paremski, who uses the word "vibe" and then asks, "That's
not too American a word, is it?" Iain Burnside replies in his Best
British Manner, "It's a word, yes."
For me, however, the documentary, One Heart, One Soul, counts as the
most interesting portion of the bonus features. It consists of the director
of Schumann-Haus, Gerd Nauhaus, a man who knows his Schumann as well
anybody, discussing the composer. He too corrects some of the misperceptions
that have arisen during the other interviews. Nauhaus speaks German,
but you can choose subtitles from among several languages, including
One may very well ask what audience these discs serve. Sting provides
one answer: those not normally interested in classical music can come
genre by getting involved in the story. It is a cracking good story,
if a little weepy -- a Romance novel that happens to be true. Die-hard
fanatics will probably want it, even though he doesn't sing. Those who
know their Schumann may or may not find something to interest them. The
performances all shine, but it's not a Schumann concert, after all. You'll
just have to work it out for yourselves.
S.G.S. (February 2010)
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