David Shifrin, clarinet
Carol Rosenberger, piano
Carol Rosenberger and David Shifrin pay tribute to Brahms and Schumann by recreating Clara Schumann’s musical soiree of 1894, when Brahms and the virtuoso clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld performed the two Clarinet Sonatas Op. 120, and Clara Schumann and Muhlfeld played the Fantasiestucke. The repertoire belongs to a small group of 19th-century masterpieces composed for the novel medium of clarinet and piano. Among major composers, only Mozart and Weber had written for this medium, setting the precedent for the lyrical impassioned works of Schumann and Brahms.
The story of Brahms’ and Schumann’s first meeting and their friendship is well-known. But the catalytic role of Clara Schumann in bringing recognition and fame to her husband’s music through performance has not often been recognized. Delos pays tribute to Clara Schumann as well. The program booklet contains comments by David Shifrin gleaned from a recent interview. Mr. Shifrin sees many important similarities between Brahms’ and Schumann’s writing for clarinet and piano: “It’s never a matter of the piano accompanying the clarinet so much as the clarinet being almost like a third hand of the piano, an extension that’s able to sustain and color the sound in ways that the piano can’t. Very often the clarinet is accompanying the piano. Very frequently, of course, the piano lays the harmonic and rhythmic structure for the melodic line of the clarinet. But the net result in the Schumann and in the Brahms is a texture that is like one instrument.” Mr. Shifrin also makes important observations about the technical challenges posed by Schumann’s Fantasiestucke: “Schumann was writing even more pianistically than Brahms if that’s possible, and not really taking the instrumental difficulties of a wind player into account . . . The clarinet plays almost constantly throughout the entire three Fantasy pieces. There’s never a chance to rest and very rare chances to breathe.”
On the CD, David Shifrin and Carol Rosenberger perform the Clarinet Sonatas and the Fantasy Pieces in the order they observe on concert programs. In Ms. Rosenberger’s words, “We start with the E-flat Sonata which floats in gently and draws the listener into its lyrical world.” From there, the Fantasy Pieces continue the intimate sound while heightening the lyrical mood. “By this time,” she explains, “the listener is ready for the grand structure of the F Minor Sonata which carries the program’s lyricism to an impassioned climax.”
JOHANNES BRAHMS Clarinet Sonata in E-flat Major op. 120 no. 2
ROBERT SCHUMANN Fantasiestucke op. 73
JOHANNES BRAHMS Clarinet Sonata in F Minor op. 120 no. 1