Robert and Clara Schumann

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 October, 2010, 12:00am

Robert and Clara Schumann
Musica Viva
HK City Hall Concert Hall
Reviewed: Oct 1

This all-Schumann programme reminded us of both the pre-eminence of Robert's chamber music and the underestimated composing skills of his wife, Clara.

A dozen performers presented 22 songs and two instrumental pieces, probably unfamiliar to most and, therefore, facing the Teflon test: how much stuck in the ear the next day?

Quite a lot, not least Robert's Andante und Variationen op46 for two pianos (Nancy Loo, Mary Wu), two cellos (Dora Lam, Cara Cheung) and horn (Hermann Paw). The unusual combination can sound self-conscious and lumpy, but the way the players deployed their rich sounds throughout this well-balanced and fluent performance was exemplary.

Colette Lam (soprano), Melody Sze (mezzo-soprano), David Quah (tenor) and Edmund Kwan (baritone) combined variously in four duets by Robert, each well judged in vocal character and poetic delivery. The group made less of an impression in his Spanische Liebeslieder op138, too many stretches being read from the page rather than spontaneously performed.

Violinist Gui Li similarly needed to liberate herself from the music stand, but she used her mellow sound with welcome restraint in Clara's Drei Romanzen op22, applying romantic warmth rather than making torrid statements. Pianist Lai Yim-fong accompanied with equal sensitivity.

Ten songs by Robert and Clara featured soprano Rao Lan. Committed to every word, she was at her best when floating high phrases and finding perfect colours (Robert's Mondnacht and Lied der Suleika respectively) but the intensity of vibrato didn't always suit the style of song. Mary Wu's accompaniments were so discreet in places as to be self-effacing.

Back projections were used throughout and were instantly annoying. Scenes from nature and alabaster sculptures might have had some relevance; but a scrum of fluffy toy bunnies, and a blonde with a spaghetti strap?