Schumann: Symphony No. 2
Hard to believe this is Claudio Abbado’s first ever recording of a Schumann Symphony. What took him so long? Right from the slow introduction’s mysterious opening bars, this is a compelling account of the C major Second Symphony, imbued with Abbado’s characteristic attention to detail, and the sharply pointed rhythms he obtains from his augmented Orchestra Mozart. The scherzo is admirably light on its feet, with crisply articulated wind playing in the first of the two trios creating an almost balletic effect. It’s a piece that contains some notoriously tricky violin writing, and it’s traditional to accelerate towards the end, where the going gets easier, in order to create an effect of brilliance. But Abbado shows that the ending can be very effective without such superficial excitement.
The slow movement is one of Schumann’s great tragic utterances, and in Abbado’s hands it breathes the air of a Bach Passion. No less impressive is the overture to Schumann’s only opera, Genoveva, with its impassioned phrases curling back on each other and winding their way down through the orchestra to splendid effect. Only the fine overture to Manfred, in the dark key of E flat minor, disappoints. Here, Abbado’s account fails to generate sufficient drama and intensity, and perhaps it’s not by chance that of these performances, this is the only one that originates from the studio, rather than the concert hall. But this is altogether an impressive disc, and hopefully just the start of a complete Schumann cycle from this source.