Schumann: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 4

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Polish National RSO/Antoni Wit
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550923 DDD
Since Norrington’s pioneering period instrument versions of Symphonies Nos 3 and 4 for EMI, audiences have been encouraged to hear Schumann’s symphonic music in new ways. For example, Harnoncourt’s recent issue of Symphonies Nos 3 and 4 with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (Teldec) offers persuasive evidence that Schumann was a fluent and natural orchestrator. Goodman and the Hanover Band now join the field with the first complete recording of Schumann’s symphonic works on period instruments.

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Schumann’s symphonies contain an abundance of melodic riches and luminous textures; but it is not only the numerous revelations of orchestral colour and internal detail that impress here. Goodman’s close observation of Schumann’s metronome markings brings more clearly into focus the composer’s effortless invention and intuitive instrumentation. The Overture, Scherzo and Finale sounds delightfully fresh and radiant; superb balance gives the Spring Symphony an enchanting, chamber feel, and the 1841 version of the Fourth Symphony is played with extraordinary spontaneity as a single vital unit. Moreover, the Hanover Band’s powerfully directed, disciplined ensemble gives the Second Symphony added bite and exuberance, while the Third Symphony’s blend of affectionate lyricism, charm and seriousness is achieved with brilliance.

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Wit and the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra show a strong feeling for Schumann’s Romantic musical language; their spaciously recorded accounts of the Second and Fourth Symphonies are impressively bold and atmospheric. However, the crisply recorded, cleaner lines of the Hanover Band’s performances more comprehensively capture Schumann’s beguiling delicacy and lucid expression. Nicholas Rast