Robert Schumann gets a lot of flack for his symphonic works, which are somewhat foursquare in conception. Then he doesn't get credit from many for his chamber music. Go figure. Clara usually gets passed over entirely for her husband, and ends up in the shadow of Brahms, too. Maybe the Schumann family is just unlucky then, but the music is simply wonderful stuff. As I stated last month, João Paulo Santos and Bruno Monteiro are a terrific duo, who clearly believe in whatever they play. This disc has already gotten a good deal of media attention, and rightfully so, but my two cents are below.
Monteiro has a unique sound, and it takes some getting used to. Once you've done that, bask in his unfailing artistry and musical sincerity. The two Schumann sonatas simply soar; Centaur's recording putting you in a concert hall seat. To my ears, the first sonata reminds me a good deal of Brahms, and it's none the worse for that. Even if you disagree, it's so delightfully soulful and Romantic that you have to appreciate just how masterful this is. Perhaps it doesn't have the tunes that Brahms' work for this pairing does, but what it possesses is great regardless. Santos is simply wonderful; I loved him in the Saint-Saens/Strauss disc I reviewed, and in a more favorable acoustic I'm able to appreciate just how fine an artist he is. But this is still Bruno Monteiro's show, and he glows. The darkly dramatic third movement shows him at his virtuosic best.
The second sonata is both more substantial and more challenging. It fazes these players not a whit, their abilities shine in this work, too. Lasting over a half hour, this piece oozes Romanticism in an absolutely spine-tingling manner. I'd like to highlight the third movement, which is simply gorgeous. Again, the violinists' unique tone may raise some brows, but so serious is his purpose and so heartfelt are the melodies that there's little else to quibble about. The finale brings the work to a stormy and whirlwind close. It's intensely satisfying.
Instead of the composer's third sonata, Santos and Monteiro opt instead for three heart-wrenching Romances by his wife Clara that prove an apt coupling. They are what they are, melancholy and bittersweet miniatures that show Clara's extraordinary gifts for composing, gifts she would abandon at Robert's death. Again, praise goes to Bruno Monteiro and João Pablo Santos for their complete belief in the music and their willingness to put it before us. This is really very, very fine. A winner of a disc.
Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman