THIS YEAR is the bicentenary of Robert Schumann’s birth and Music For Galway is marking the occasion in style with Fantasies and Fairytales, a weekend of selected chamber works by Schumann, running over four concerts from January 22 to 24 at the Town Hall Theatre.
Music For Galway’s annual January festival is now in its seventh year and with the support of the Arts Council and sponsorship from Digital Enterprise Research Institute it has grown from strength to strength.
Each of the three main concerts is programmed around one central piece, all of which were written in 1842, a prolific year for Schumann’s chamber music, while Clara, his wife and a celebrated pianist, was away on concert tour.
For the opening concert on Friday night, internationally feted Romanian-born pianist Eduard Stan will be joining members of ConTempo Quartet to perform the Piano Quartet Op 47 - a roller coaster ride of grand climaxes, episodes of bubbling counterpoint, and moments of reflection.
The distinguished German clarinettist Johannes Peitz joins for the Friday concert to perform ‘Fantasy Pieces’ for clarinet and piano and Fairy Tales Op 132 - one of Schumann’s very last works, pervaded with deepest melancholy which betrays his tragic state of health.
The evening would not be complete without songs for which Schumann is so well known - the sensational young Russian baritone Rodion Pogossov will make his Irish debut as he and Eduard Stan perform ‘Die Löwenbraut’ and ‘Der Nussbaum’.
These two artists will take centre stage for the more intimate Saturday afternoon recital. Schumann's extraordinary ability to translate profound, delicate - and sometimes fleeting - states of the soul is exemplified by works such as the song cycle ‘Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love )’, and his brilliant collections of short piano pieces, including ‘Fantasy Pieces’ and ‘Morning Songs’, one of the composer’s ultimate works for piano.
Saturday evening’s concert continues with a mix of duos for cello and piano, viola, and piano, as well as the ‘Fantasy Pieces’ for violin, cello and piano. These pieces, full of warm-hearted and soaring melodies, were also written in 1842 along with the main work of the night, String Quartet No 3.
The festival concludes on Sunday at 3pm and features yet another popular work for piano, the ‘Forest Scenes’. There will be another chance to hear the wonderful voice of Rodion Pogossov in a selection of songs, and ConTempo and Eduard Stan will join one last time to perform Schumann’s Piano Quintet. Premiered privately by Felix Mendelssohn and publicly by Clara Schumann, this is still considered to be one of the finest piano quintets ever written.
Pianist Eduard Stan, who has performed to great acclaim all over Europe and the US is one of the distinguished artists taking part in Fantasies and Fairytales, and at the end of his first day’s rehearsal in Galway, he took some time out to talk about what the event means to him.
Praised by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung for his “eminent sense of tonal timbres and colours”, Stan was born in the Romanian city of Brasov in 1967 and first started taking piano lessons at the age of six.
It was only after his family emigrated to Germany when he was 11 that he started to develop a serious commitment to music. He has been described as “a Romanian soul united with musical sensitivity grown on German spiritual ground”, a portrayal with which he concurs.
“I always say if I had stayed in Romania I would never have become a professional musician,” he declares. “All I am as a musician I owe to German teachers. I had a very famous teacher in Romania, she was noted for working with ‘wunderkinden’ though I was not one of those!
“It was after I moved to Germany and started being taught by Karl-Heinz Kämmerling and Arie Vardi, who was my most important teacher, that I knew I wanted to be a professional musician.”
The young Stan was also well equipped to adapt to his new German home on leaving Romania.
“Although I am Romanian and both my parents are Romanian I could speak German,” he discloses. “I grew up in a multi-ciultural ambience because Brasov had German and Hungarian minorities. The first language I learned was German, because I had a German-rooted nurse who looked after me a lot when I was small as both my parents were working and she would speak to me in German.”
A busy concert and recording artist, Stan has appeared in festivals such as Massenet, Enescu, Brunswick Classix, Lille Pianos, and Bourglinster in Luxemburg. His critically acclaimed solo CDs for Hänssler Classic range from Bach to Debussy, and he is scheduled to record a Chopin CD for Thorofon in 2010.
With violinist Remus Azoitei he has given numerous recital performances and recorded the Complete Works for Violin and Piano of George Enescu (for Hänssler Classic ), a world premiere project which has attracted rave reviews.
The Fantasies and Fairytales programme features certain Schumann pieces that Stan particularly wanted to perform, as he explains:
“For the solo piano pieces I wanted to showcase some of the less frequently played later Schumann works, so I am doing his last three big piano pieces ‘Forest Scenes’, ‘Fantasy Pieces’ (Op 111 ) and his very last piano cycle, ‘Morning Songs’.
“This is a tribute I felt I had to do for Schumann because many people think that just the early Schumann is genius while his later work is not quite so good but I don’t think so: it’s different from the early work but it has a special charm.”
How would Stan describe the particular challenges and rewards that Schumann presents to the concert pianist?
“There are several challenges,” says Stan. “Tempo choice is one, Schumann’s metronome indications can be questionable at times! With the late Schumann you feel he is a broken soul in a way, he’s not a composer of very long lines and you have to meld that together to get a whole piece.
“We know that Schumann was a master of the shorter forms, he was one of the great lied composers. The big piano cycles are basically the putting-together of many shorter scenes which are nicely combined. So it’s a challenge to have a vision of a whole while knowing that he’s very much in the detail. There is also the question of crescendi, how to build up to them. As for the rewards, it’s wonderful music, it gives you a lot of joy and inner strength and elan.”
Stan also expresses his delight at taking part in a festival such as Fantasies and Fairytales.
“It’s a wonderful project to have these four concerts in three days,” he enthuses. “That a city the size of Galway would do such a festival is a marvellous project. I have a lot of respect for the organisers. I am really impressed. Even in Germany where you have a centuries-old musical tradition it would be unusual to find a project such as this. I’m looking forward very much to taking part.”
So start Schumann’s bicentenary in style, keep the winter chill at bay, and join Music for Galway for Fantasies and Fairytales, a wonderful opportunity to hear Schumann’s gorgeous chamber music over four concerts.
Full programme details are available from Music for Galway on 091 - 705962 or online at www.musicforgalway.ie Booking is through the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.