R Schumann – Symphonies Nos 1 and 4
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/François-Xavier Roth (Myrios)
Symphony No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 38 ‘Spring’; Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/François-Xavier Roth
Myrios MYR028 55:16 mins
Do we really need more reminders that Schumann wasn’t the clumsy, imaginatively hampered orchestrator of legend? If you still do, then listen to this. No orchestral composer of Schumann’s time benefits more from a low-fat, finely featured post-period approach, especially when it’s brought off as beautifully as by François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich Orchestra. I do mean beautifully: there’s a luminous clarity about the sound, but it’s never thin. The restrained vibrato by no means precludes warm Romantic expressivity, and in any case it’s not applied throughout – the violin solo in the ‘Romanza’ of Symphony No. 4 is all the sweeter because this kind of vibrato hasn’t been spray-glossed over everything. Roth’s phrasing is generous but always directed with an ear to the larger shape of things, and his rhythmic articulation manages to be light and muscular at the same time – especially valuable when (as so often) Schumann gets airborne.
How wonderful, too, to hear such a gripping, thoroughly convinced-sounding rendition of the original version of No. 4. Granted, there are one or two improvements in the revision, but to listen to this is to realise that the wildly lateral, quirkily brilliant Schumann of the earlier piano music was still very much alive in 1841. Is there anything in 19th-century symphonic music more outrageously original than the way the finale introduction swells and boils over into the main allegro?
The First, too, is as fresh and spring-like as its title demands. It sounds like a still-young man discovering himself delightedly as a master symphonist. Lovely recordings too, with a clear overall picture but also lots of telling detail.