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String together the words Kiss, blowing, wind, and Romance, and you will be forgiven for thinking: mushy love story. Well, you would be right, but not in the way you imagine.

All these words describe an interesting Schumann CD (SCHUMANN: Works for Oboe and Piano) on the shelf of Sinari music store, opposite Navtara, near the Panjim market.

Interesting because the disc features chamber works for oboe and piano. None of the delightful miniatures on it (except for the Romances) were originally scored by Robert Schumann (whose birth bicentennial is being celebrated all over the globe this year) for this combination.

The album begins with Five Pieces in Folk-Song Style., written for cello (or violin) and piano, with a dedication to Leipzig Gewandhaus cellist Andreas Grabau, in 1849 (in fact all the works except for the last on the disc stem from this year, which he described as his most productive, despite the political turmoil in Dresden at the time).

The Fantasy Pieces (Fantasiestücke) Op. 73 were scored for clarinet and piano, with the option of cello or violin. His diaries describe these three short pieces played by violinist Ferdinand David and Clara Schumann in Leipzig in 1852, and the next year by Joseph Joachim before the royal couple in Hanover. Cellist Steven Isserlis, an ardent Schumann advocate, describes these works as love poems, a conversation between lovers.

Adagio and Allegro was written originally for French horn and piano, with the option of violin or cello.

The three Romances, Op. 94, were written specifically for oboe and piano, but again offering the option of violin or clarinet.

The last work on the disc is actually a violin sonata (no. 1 in A minor, Op. 105, dedicated to Gewandhaus violinist and Schumann’s first biographer Wasielewski), which as it turns out is eminently adaptable to the oboe. This piece was written in 1851, just three years before he voluntarily got himself admitted into a mental asylum. It is certainly one of the most intimate pieces he wrote.

The beauty of this disc is that the featured bite-size works are a delightful introduction into the sound-world of Schumann for new listeners, while the more experienced will hear familiar pieces in a new avatar, through the unusually penetrating timbre of the oboe, with its haunting ability to convey nobility and pathos at the same time.

Musicologist and Schumann expert Joan Chissell observes: “Though Beethoven and Schubert had already made use of the miniature, it was Schumann who realized its greatest potential, and it is often through the miniature that his own greatness is revealed”.

The common thread through these works is, of course, the greatest love story in the history of music, between Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck, daughter of his piano tutor and a very successful concert pianist in her own right. They married in 1840 against her father’s objections following a court injunction. It was Clara who encouraged Robert to look beyond the pianoforte as the subjects of his compositions.

Principal oboist of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra and assistant professor of oboe at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music, József Kiss has an outstanding range of tone, with phenomenal technical prowess and instinctive musical insight. Jenő Jandó is a pianistic workhorse for the Naxos label, and is a sensitive accompanist, true to form.

Naxos has done us a great favour by releasing this disc. And at knockdown Naxos prices, this Kiss is certainly a steal!

(This article appeared in the Herald, Goa India on 15 May 2010)

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