From The Boston Globe:

Emmanuel plays a poetic, elegant Schumann
By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff | January 12, 2005

In 1989, Emmanuel Music embarked on its first major chamber-music series, presenting 12 concerts devoted to the complete songs of Robert Schumann. Subsequent series have been devoted to Brahms, French composers, Schubert, and John Harbison, many of them stretching over several years and extending well beyond vocal music. These concerts have become a uniquely bright thread in the city's musical culture, the kind of ambitious project you would not find in any other American city -- or European capital, for that matter.

This season, Emmanuel returns to Schumann in the first season of a projected five-year-, 35-concert series of the composer's complete piano, chamber, and vocal music. Concert 3, presented Sunday afternoon, featured two of Schumann's masterpieces, the Second Piano Sonata and the "Kerner Lieder," as well as some worthwhile music that is rarely heard, the "Ballszenen" for piano, four hands, and the original finale of the sonata that the composer dropped from the work but that was published separately as the "Presto passionato."

It was a wonderful afternoon of music and music-making. The one participant in the whole program was pianist Judith Gordon, who offered an outstanding performance of the Sonata, balancing passion with lucidity and sensitivity, and rising to meet all of the considerable technical challenges. (Schumann instructs passages to be "as fast as possible" followed by the repeated direction "faster still.") This piece, once ubiquitous, has lost favor with contemporary pianists who are more likely to play the First Sonata, but the slow movement is one of Schumann's most luminous and poetic creations, and the rest is certainly colorful and exciting. The "Presto passionato" may have added too much more of the same mood, and the standard finale makes a stronger conclusion, but it is still a striking piece, well worth hearing.

In the "Ballszenen," a suite of charming dances in national styles from Poland, Austria, Hungary, France, and Scotland, Gordon was joined by pianist Kayo Iwama, who played treble to her bass. Both are elegant players, full of character, and it was great fun to hear them together.

The prize of the concert, though, was the great song cycle on poems by Justinus Kerner, which was sung by a founding Emmanuelite, baritone James Maddalena, with Gordon as collaborator. These songs are searching, profound, both direct and ambiguous, and Maddalena sang them with magnificent tone, diction, musicianship, and insight. The singer's voice sounds completely rejuvenated, yet he retains the advantage of 35 years of experience; his singing of this music was as eloquent and accomplished as Jose van Dam's, and Gordon's playing was as imaginative and responsive as the singing.

The only problem was that the sanctuary of Emmanuel Church did not offer the most helpful acoustic for this subtle kind of music and performance. The series has long since outgrown its original home in the church library, and there were problems with its successor, too, the C. Walsh Theater at Suffolk University, but both rooms offered better sound for chamber music.

The Schumann Series
At: Emmanuel Church, Sunday