NACO Recordings

Clara - Robert - Johannes: Box Set

Complete collection

Released March 22, 2024

Composers: Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms
Performers: Alexander Shelley, Canada's National Arts Centre Orchestra, Angela Hewitt, Stewart Goodyear, Gabriela Montero, Yosuke Kawasaki, Rachel Mercer
Period: Romantic

“A superb collection.”

—BBC Music Magazine

With this 8 CD box-set, we reach the conclusion of a multi-year and multi-disc exploration of the music – and, through the music, the lives – of Clara, Robert, and Johannes. Their creative output reflects not only their individual brilliance and characters, but also the role of the creative artist in their time and across the centuries. In grappling with the abstract symphonic form at a moment in music history when storytelling was in vogue, Robert and Johannes carried forward a vital mantle, moulding it into their own shape. Clara, a musician of breathtaking skill and breadth, juggling the pressures of a solo career and motherhood, gifted us intimately touching and brilliantly crafted songs and chamber music.

The journey that the NAC Orchestra and I have taken with Clara, Robert, and Johannes over the last years has been a deeply enriching one. It is a journey that has brought cherished artistic partners closer to us than ever – the likes of Stewart Goodyear, Angela Hewitt, Gabriela Montero, Adrianne Pieczonka, and Liz Upchurch – and a journey that has showcased the extraordinary talent of our musicians, in both orchestral and chamber settings. 

Each of the four sets of double CDs has been curated as a musical story, an exploration, an experience to be enjoyed in one sweep, if time allows. The symphonies mirror one another, serving as bookends, the songs and chamber music draw us into a tender, intimate realm, and inspiring contemporary improvisations remind us that extemporization was the engine of creativity for these prodigious artists.

It is my hope that across the span of these recordings, you will be able to enjoy the mutual inspiration and admiration that is evident between these three friends. It is my hope also that through the prism of these programs and through the brilliance of our guests you have garnered a sense of how music was presented and consumed in their time. Fluid, improvisational, tautly constructed, intimate, and deeply personal, they speak to us across the ages.

In many ways, this repertoire sits in the sweet spot of our ensemble, formed, as it is, in the mould of a late-Classical, early-Romantic symphony orchestra. And indeed this is where these three phenomenal composers - Clara, Robert, Johannes - themselves sit: as bridges between the Classical and the Romantic. On the one hand they were rooted, deeply, in the philosophy, sensibility, instrumentation, and musical architecture of the Classical period. On the other they strove to mould the sound of the future, a future invited by the power, passion, and profound humanity of their great forebear Beethoven.

It was Wagner’s belief that these gargantuan operas were the true way forward after Beethoven, a fact that underscores how very much our Schumann-Brahms-Schumann triumvirate were forging their own alternative path with symphonies, songs, and chamber music that embrace delicacy and eschew bombast. The craft, invention, and heart of their music and the support, admiration, and love they showed one another remain an inspiration nearly two centuries later.

On behalf of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra and all of the artists featured on these recordings: thank you for listening! We wish you many hours of enjoyment and fulfilment with dear, miraculous Clara, Robert, and Johannes.

 –  Alexander Shelley