The Strad: Review about the “Once Upon a Time…”


The Strad Issue: March 2018
Description: Fantasy and fairy tales are at the heart of a gripping recital
Musicians: Tabea Zimmermann (viola), Jörg Widmann (clarinet), Dénes Várjon (piano)
Works: SCHUMANN Märchenerzählungen op.132, Fantasiestücke op.73, Märchenbilder op. 113. WIDMANN Es war einmal…
Catalogue Number: MYRIOS MYR020

This is an uncommonly cogent programme with Schumann in fairy-tale-telling mood. Widmann’s evocatively titled companion piece was written in 2015 for the present performers and here receives its first recording. The opening phrases in viola and clarinet seem actually to be spelling out Es war einmal… (‘Once upon a time’) before the movement goes on to deconstruct Schumann’s sound world – which nevertheless keeps peeping through – and make room for Widmann’s unsettling mix of sounds and noises, where harmonics uncannily combine with clarinet sounds, piano strings are variously struck and clarinet keys contribute actively to the sound picture. The second movement, ‘Fata Morgana’ (mirage) includes microtonally intoned cadenzas, while noise gains the upper hand in the short, centrally placed ‘Ice grotto’ before the final two movements look back wistfully.

The trio is absolutely at one in its implementation of Widmann’s intricate score, aided by a vivid recording of in-the-room-with-you quality. Together or in pairs, the players also assume to perfection the ambiguous mood of Schumann’s late chamber compositions, be it the conversational tone in the first movement of Märchenerzählungen or its slow movement’s fragile and intimate atmosphere; the finale’s almost continuous, potentially clanging forte is cannily avoided by the musicians’ thoughtful touch. The Fantasiestücke are often played by cellists and violists, so it’s nice to hear them in their original clarinet version for a change! In Märchenbilder, Zimmermann works her usual magic in a whispered lullaby that caps a reading of sophisticated sensuousness.