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Disc review: Brahms Beloved and Clara Schumann Lieder, John Axlerod, conductor

Classical

Brahms Beloved

Symphonies 1 and 3

Clara Schumann Lieder

John Axlerod, conductor

[Telarc]

3 stars

This two-CD set is the conclusion of a two-part series conductor John Axelrod has designed around Brahms’ legendary love for Clara Schumann. The project sees the Brahms symphonies in that romantic light, approaching them as his portraits of her, and it pairs them with songs by Clara Schumann.

As I griped in connection with Part 1, I don’t buy this premise, that Clara was Brahms’ only muse. She was the most important, and he always loved her to some degree, but there were other things, and/or other women, in his life that inspired his masterpieces. And we do an artist like Brahms a disservice to explain him so simplistically.

On the plus side of the ledger, Axelrod conducts The Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi in these symphonies with tenderness and sensitivity. Wolfgang Holzmair, a marquee name among baritones, sounds better and warmer than he has sounded to me on other occasions. And as far as sopranos go you do not get better than Dame Felicity Lott.

This disc does a better job than any I can recall in selling the songs of Clara Schumann. I have always thought they were overrated, and it doesn’t help them to pair them with Brahms symphonies, even if it’s an interesting idea. But listening to these performances I found myself liking them more.

– Mary Kunz Goldman

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