Concert Review: Skipton Music’s “I, Clara” Honoring Female Composers

SKIPTON Music’s 75th anniversary season “Hidden Treasures”, centered on the works of female composers, got off to a memorable start with an evening hosted by Lucy Parham (piano) and Joanna David (narrator), writes Charles Dobson

“I, Clara” is a sequence of readings from the writings of Clara Schumann interspersed with piano pieces by Clara herself, her beloved and devoted husband Robert Schumann and other contemporary composers.

Clara was one of those fearless 19th century women who had to raise and support a young family after the untimely death of a husband – in her case, by undertaking arduous concert tours as the one of the greatest piano virtuosos of his time. His writings convey something of the demands of these concert tours – no EasyJet flights to St Petersburg at that time! – as well as the emotional strain of a long separation from her children. She also has wise (and sometimes not overly complimentary) commentary on other musical figures of her time – Chopin, Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, Wagner, Liszt and especially Brahms who gave her much emotional support after illness and death. terrible from Robert.

It was fascinating to hear the music in that context. For example, Clara says Robert was devoted to his young children and this is evident in the haunting “First loss”, written to console a child after the death of a beloved pet. Clara herself was represented by a precocious and brilliantly effective Polonaise, and a more meditative Romance. Several pieces by Robert Schumann were presented, including a moving Intermezzo in the same unusual key as Clara’s romance. And the evening ended as it should with an arrangement by Liszt of Robert’s “Dedication”, a song written at first sight of his love for Clara.

Joanna David as narrator held the evening together with her sympathetic yet beautifully understated reading of Clara’s lyrics. And Lucy Parham played with the most wonderful versatility – refined and sensitive in the quieter parts, but with all the panache and passion when the music demanded it. Robert Schumann had a word for this kind of playing, almost untranslatable into English – “mit Innigkeit” – with a finesse and sensitivity that goes to the emotional heart of the music.

Skipton Music’s next concert will take place on Tuesday, November 1 and will feature the Marsyas Trio in works by Fanny Mendelssohn, Louise Farrenc, Amy Beach and others. Tickets are available on the Skipton Town Hall website.

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