Schumann at Pier 2
This is an ambitious project: a specially-commissioned video recording of the Schumann Symphonies filmed, before a small audience, with multi-camera set-ups in a disused warehouse in the dockyards of Bremen that’s more often used for rock concerts. The avowed aim of director Christian Berger was, in fact, to create a film that would appeal to people brought up on pop and on music videos. Whether in so doing he has run the risk of alienating more classically-orientated listeners is an open question. Certainly, the rapid editing style and the fondness for extreme close-ups, combined with the restless camera-movements, made it hard at times for me to concentrate on the music.
On the other hand, the documentary film on the third DVD, in which Paavo Järvi talks engagingly about his love for Schumann, and some of the orchestral members discuss the challenges they face, is both inventive and instructive. How often, for instance, do we think of the plight of the trombonists who have to come in ‘cold’ at the start of the ‘Cologne Cathedral’ fourth movement of the Rhenish Symphony, and intone a pianissimo chorale perfectly in tune without previously having played a note?
But what matters above all is that the performances themselves are truly impressive. Here is a predominantly young orchestra of exactly the right size to enable Schumann’s textures to be heard with the clarity they deserve, and clearly made up of players that care passionately about the music. Järvi brings out both its nervous excitement and yearning sensuousness with great understanding, keeping his musicians constantly on their toes and his listeners on the edge of their seats. To hear these accounts is to fall in love with the pieces all over again.