Robert Schumann: Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 105
Olivier Lechardeur: Piano
Laurence Monti: Violin
Another beautiful late-summer evening in Aix-en-Provence, another exciting program in the Chapelle des Oblats’ cloister as part of the annual Musique dans la Rue (Music in the Streets) festival, which is apparently becoming more and more popular over time. Thing is, it is pretty hard not to notice the ubiquitous blue signs all over town, not to mention the barriers trying to contain the mix of dedicated followers and curious passersby in line to get in. And I can certainly attest that it is nearly impossible to turn down the promise of free, high-quality 30-minute performances even when one is swamped with work.
On Thursday, as I was going through the frustrating embarrassment of riches that is the program, my attention was caught by the double bill of the Schumanns, namely Robert and Clara. I figured that not only would it be really neat to hear his wonderful Violin Sonata No. 1 again, but that it would also be the perfect opportunity to become better acquainted with her œuvre since back in their time the considerably thicker and higher glass ceiling did not allow her to get the broad recognition she so deserved. So I found myself in line at the Oblats again.
Although in the official program Robert’s sonata appeared first, on Thursday evening, it was Clara’s three romances that took over the first half of the concert. And everybody was thrilled to hear those three little gems that certainly know how to convey a wide range of moods, including the spontaneous liveliness of the first one, the combination of pensive and extroverted lyricism of the second one, and the steady melodic power of the more substantial third one.
An alumnus of the Conservatoire of Lyon enjoying an outstanding career, Laurence Monti seemed to seamlessly channeled Clara’s prodigious talent as she adroitly unfolded the attractive melodic lines, even when unceremonious gusts of mistral had her make unplanned acrobatics to keep her sheet music in place. Equally eminent pianist Oliver Lechardeur had an easier time managing his score thanks to his little page turner, and proved to be quite the expert at working his way through the complex piano parts.
Not to be outdone, Robert Schumann’s popular Violin Sonata No. 1 proved again what a superior craftsman Clara's husband was. In true Schumann fashion, the intimate composition has a lot going on what with its fair share of passionate emotions, but also moments of understated serenity, flashes of colorful exuberance, as well as a fleeting touch of darkness. Treated as equal partners on paper, both musicians delivered a perfectly balanced, powerfully expressive performance of the concise yet strongly evocative work. All in all, I am happy to report that Robert sounded worthy of Clara.