Sunday, 29 May 2022

Schumann with the lid up

Oxford’s world-leading, two-week Oxford Lieder festival presents more than 35 concerts and dozens of other events in celebration of the art form of song

Oxford Lieder Festival
The Schumann Project
Holywell Music Room
Tuesday, October 18

Oxford’s world-leading, two-week Oxford Lieder festival presents more than 35 concerts and dozens of other events in celebration of the art form of song.

‘The Schumann Project’, this year’s theme, explored the songs and instrumental chamber works of Robert Schumann, including his Adagio and Allegro, Op.70, Fantasiestücke, Op.73 and Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op.47, performed in Holywell Music Room by the Marlborough Piano Quartet.

For this event the quartet recruited guest cellist Guy Johnston. He was also billed to play the two solo pieces, but it was Philip Dukes (viola) who performed the opening Adagio and Allegro, while Johnston played, not the advertised Fantasiestücke Op.12 in seven movements, but Op.73 in three. A disappointment on both counts.

Composed in 1849, a year of intense activity for Schumann, the Adagio and Allegro was scored for horn and piano, with parts for viola and cello. The tenderness and nostalgic musings of the Adagio, contrasted with the ecstatic happiness of the Allegro, show Schumann at his most romantic.

Philip Dukes’ performance, however, though fluent and accurate, did not set the world alight. He was also frequently outgunned by the piano, its lid wide open ? no checks for balance appear to have been made. That aside, the keyboard part was well played by the quartet’s founder, Anna Tilbrook.

Also written in 1849 was Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op.73, described by some as a “veritable chestnut” amongst his chamber works. Johnston’s open, committed playing was immediately attention-grabbing and, even at its most sensitive, projected sufficiently to complement Anna Tilbrook’s responsive piano part. His subtle touches, beautifully calibrated rubatos and silky-soft tone drew out the warmth and sensuousness of Schumann’s composition.

Together, the duo captured the liquid lyricism of the music as well as its dark, introspective moments. And in the passionate third Rasch und mit Feuer movement there was no holding them back.

Guest violinist Charlotte Scott joined the three musicians for Schumann’s Piano Quartet. She proceeded to grace the stage with her musical authority, energy and style.

A slow introduction led to a lively first movement, interspersed with magical string chorales while the excellent ensemble in the Scherzo underscored the great understanding between quartet members.

But their perfectly judged slow movement was the evening’s highlight, its soaring melody passing tenderly between instruments. This eventually gave way to the tricky Finale/Vivace movement, where fast contrapuntal passages alternated with lyrical contrasts as momentum built towards the joyous final coda and several well-deserved curtain calls.

For more on the festival, visit

Review by Trevor Howell

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