Symphonies Nos 2 & 4
Antwerp Symphony Orchestra/Philippe Herreweghe
Phi LPH 032 64:47 mins
These energising accounts of Schumann’s (officially) second and fourth symphonies are beautifully judged: Philippe Herreweghe’s conducting treads a fine line that draws forth most of what’s best in them. The sense of irrepressible vigour and solid rhythmic drive – something Schumann inherited from his idol, Beethoven – is not compromised, but the textures remain beautifully clear and the orchestral balance well-nigh ideal. I would actually challenge anybody to hear these accounts and then dare to opine – as some still do – that Schumann was a lousy orchestrator; his individual sound colours give the symphonies a type of sepia-toned quality that is unique.
The one downside of striking a happy medium is that Schumann was not a particularly ‘medium’ kind of person or composer. While I would not want to change a note of Herreweghe’s performance of No. 4, No. 2 is a more extreme work: its rhythmic obsessiveness and the contrast of the two central movements arguably convey to us much about its composer’s troubled state of mind. It seems, at least to me, most successful when the scherzo is on the fast side and the third movement is allowed to experience a full sense of tragedy. This performance works well as it is, with everything flowing easily and every note audible, but I can’t help longing for that contrast to be exaggerated a little more.
Sound quality is clean and vivid, complementing the clarity of the orchestral playing. As is often the case, Schumann comes across best when its wings are not weighed down.