Tribute To Schumann, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

It was a risky idea to take a selection of Schumann solos, duets and piano morceaux intended for children, already put down by Hyperion on CD, and transfer them to the less intimate surroundings of a concert hall. But when the three performers are such a venerable trio as Dame Felicity Lott, Ann Murray DBE and Graham Johnson OBE, touring repertoire in which they feel at home makes sense.

The programme started with vocal and piano music from Schumann's Liederalbum für die Jugend Op 79, and his Klavieralbum für die Jugend Op 6, presented under the collective title An Album for the Young. The second half focused on "A Family Portrait" bringing that honorary member of the Schumann family, Brahms, into the picture.

As ever with these performers, the presentation was exemplary. Lott and Murray, both superb singer-actors, applied just the right amount of characterisation which, in less accomplished hands, could easily have tipped into an embarrassing charade. Capturing lost innocence is a dangerous game. Murray's depiction of the child hard at play in "Soldatenlied", and of the lonely hooting owl in "Käuzlein" caught the music's personality, while Lott brought an easy expressive flow to the slightly sentimental "Weihnachtslied".

While both made the most of the simplicity of the children's pieces, it was in the offspring growing up, explored in more adult repertoire, that real interest lay. If Lott's "Der Nussbaum" was more affecting than her "Mignon", she and Murray brought comic horror to Brahms's "Walpurgisnacht" and reflective nostalgia to "Familiengemälde" where Johnson's piano postlude seemed to drift serenely into eternity.

Johnson spun Schumann's fantasies with an expressive intensity, instinctive phrasing and a sense of deep affection. Above all, there was poetry, in the charmingly hesitant "Volksliedchen" and the quasi-religious "Figurirter Choral", while the surreal tarantella of the song-without-words of the Italian sailors suggested they'd been at sea far too long.

Further performances at St George's Brandon Hill, Bristol, Friday; and Wigmore Hall, London, 25 January

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