Schumann: Symphony No. 2 in C; ‘Symphony No. 3 in E flat (Rhenish)

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WORKS: Symphony No. 2 in C; ‘Symphony No. 3 in E flat (Rhenish)
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
The symphony was a problematic genre for Romantic composers such as Schumann. They were intimidated by the giant shade of Beethoven, whose ‘immortal nine’ proved a hard act to follow; nevertheless they felt obliged to try, as no one would take you seriously as a composer until you had written a symphony. The duty was especially onerous to Schumann, who was really much more at home in the small-scale Romantic forms of the song and ‘character’ piece. His symphonies have often been criticised for their routine passages (he would often map out tonal areas in empty bars and fill them in later), and for poor orchestration. It’s a mark of the quality of this recording that it makes Schumann seem like a natural symphonist. Chailly’s tempi are on the steady side, noticeably so in the joyous first movement of the Rhenish Symphony. But if anything this enhances the liveliness of the music, as it enables him to articulate the phrasing with great incisiveness. Chailly takes great care to clarify Schumann’s notoriously muddy textures, but not at the expense of orchestral blend. Above all, these are warmly lyrical performances, clear and detailed without being fussy, and beautifully recorded. Ivan Hewett