Schumann: Symphonies Nos 2 & 4

COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Schumann
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 2 & 4
PERFORMER: Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-SACD-1519
These two views of Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 could hardly be more different. While Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra go back to the seldomheard original version of 1841, Riccardo Chailly opts for the lightly retouched edition Mahler made for his own use in the late 1890s. When Schumann himself revised the Symphony ten years after he’d composed it, he improved some details but at the same time added instrumental doublings which lend a layer of opaqueness. Brahms’s insistence on having it published caused a rift between him and Clara, who believed her husband’s final thoughts were ipso facto sacrosanct.

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Dausgaard is not the first conductor to use the 1841 version of the D minor Symphony – there have been fine accounts, for instance, from Norrington and Gardiner – but there’s no mistaking his passionate commitment to the music, and this performance, given by an orchestra of the size Schumann himself would have known, brings it vividly to life.

Even more impressive in Dausgaard’s hands is the C major Second Symphony. It’s true that the sforzato accents are sometimes exaggerated, but there’s no denying that the first and last movements – the latter taken at a tremendous speed – are electrifying. As for the Adagio – the most heartrendingly beautiful piece of its kind between Schubert and Bruckner – it is quite wonderfully played, with a spellbinding pianissimo sound for its central fugato passage that Chailly and the Gewandhaus Orchestra can’t match. His disc also throws in the Faust overture, and the virtually unknown overture to Julius Caesar, written in the same year that the revision of the D minor Symphony was carried out.

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Mahler seems to have made fewer changes to the Fourth Symphony than to the Second. In the latter he occasionally thinned the texture and also deleted a single bar in the coda of the finale, ingeniously propelling the closing moments more effectively. However, you’d have to know the music very well to notice the differences, and Chailly’s accounts of both symphonies can be appreciated as ‘straight’ performances. Certainly, they are very fine, if not quite as revelatory as Dausgaard’s. For a more traditional view of these great works, Kubelík and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra remains my recording of choice. Misha Donat