Barber, Schumann

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Barber,Schumann
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 4 in D minor
PERFORMER: Bavarian State Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch
An interesting coupling. Samuel Barber’s neo-romantic First Symphony is conceived as a single span, with parts recalling the traditional four movements of the Classical-Romantic symphony but united in a seamless argument. At first sight, Schumann’s Fourth seems to fall into the familiar four movements, but in reality it’s as closely and subtly interwoven as the great piano fantasy-suites Kreisleriana and Davidsbündlertänze or the masterly song-sequence Dichterliebe. Sawallisch’s EMI set of the four Schumann symphonies remains one of the few largely successful cycles on record, and the same understanding is evident here – if somewhat more intermittently. The melting away of the trio section into the finale’s slow introduction is especially effective, and the finale itself certainly hots up towards the end. But I miss the energy and purpose of Riccardo Muti (Philips), especially in the first movement, while there’s nothing as scalp-prickling as the finale introduction in Günter Wand’s magnificent 1991 live version – a performance that manages to combine loving attention to detail with moments of vision. And while I welcome the intensity of the expression in Sawallisch’s Barber First, it doesn’t have the clear-eyed sense of proportion Marin Alsop brings to the music in her Naxos disc of the two symphonies and the equally substantial First Essay for Orchestra. The Farao recording is vivid, but the orchestral sound could be more homogenous – individual instruments or sections don’t always blend well. Disappointing. Stephen Johnson