Thomas Zehetmair Performs Schumann’s Violin Concerto, Symphony No. 1 and Phantasie for Violin and Orchestra

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: ECM
ALBUM TITLE: Schumann
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Symphony No. 1; Phantasie for violin and orchestra
PERFORMER: Thomas Zehetmair (violin); Orchestre de chambre de Paris
CATALOGUE NO: 481 1369

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Performing Schumann’s symphonies with a chamber orchestra means, with its reduced string section, that important wind and brass parts can cut through the texture more effectively. Such virtues are evident as Thomas Zehetmair coaxes his French players to produce warmly nuanced playing in this spirited account of the Spring Symphony: for instance, in the beautifully sonorous interaction between different sections of the orchestra in the rhythmically repeated chords that make up the Scherzo’s first Trio. The Finale, too, is absolutely delightful, dancing along with great elegance and charm. However, not everything works so effectively. To my ears, the upper strings sound recessed in relation to the rest of the orchestra. Whether this is due to the sound balance is not clear, but in the soft passage in the first movement’s slow introduction the wind chords are either played too loud or over-spotlit by the recording.

Curiously, in the more thickly scored Violin Concerto, the orchestral tuttis sound far more blended. There are some awkward corners in this piece and the Fantasie where Schumann makes formidable demands of the soloist who plays a constant flurry of fast-moving scales and arpeggios. Without a conductor’s guiding hand, such passages can sound inconsequential and ill-focused. But here the orchestra works absolutely in tandem with the superb Zehetmair whose interpretation of the Concerto’s heart-rending slow movement is particularly moving.

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Erik Levi