Schumann: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Scherzo in G minor

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Classico
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Scherzo in G minor
PERFORMER: Czech Chamber PO/Douglas Bostock
CATALOGUE NO: CLASSCD 431-32
This set of Schumann symphonies, based on the recent Breitkopf edition by Joachim Draheim, shows the Czech Chamber Philharmonic capable of realising scrupulously the refinements of articulation, texture and dynamics this edition aims to clarify. But although these performances are genuinely instructive and generally enjoyable, they too frequently indulge in self-righteous literalness. Two examples among many: the second phrase of the first movement of the Spring Symphony, which restates the trumpets’ opening call in full orchestral garb, here possesses no sense of grandeur or motivation; and the pedantic, perfunctory final chord in the first movement of the Second lets down an otherwise crisp and energetic performance.

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Most troublingly, rigid adherence to metronome markings imposes a straitjacket on Schumann’s melodic utterances. Bostock’s treatment of the cantabile cello melody in the Larghetto of the First is symptomatic – even this loving and sophisticated treatment of the accompanying texture cannot compensate for the stilted phrasing of the melodic line. Tempi are sometimes surprising – Trio II in the First rejects the traditional presto in favour of the basic tempo of the scherzo, and the finale of the Fourth is faster than customary – but the effectiveness of both familiar and unexpected pacings founders on a lack of spontaneity.

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In short, Bostock and his forces have not convincingly synthesised the competing demands of scholarship and expressiveness. Period-instrument recordings by Goodman and Gardiner achieve more satisfying results, and Wolfgang Sawallisch, on atypically fiery form, shows that a mainstream approach to these works can also be stimulating. David Breckbill