Schumann: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Arte Nova
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra/David Zinman
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 57743 2
David Zinman’s new budget-priced set of the Schumann symphonies goes a step beyond his 1989 recording of these works with the Baltimore Symphony (on Telarc). The new accounts are leaner, generally swifter, more dramatic and honed by sensibilities now further attuned to issues of historically informed performance. The most obvious difference of character between old and new comes in the Spring Symphony, now bursting with a life and energy that was absent from the almost stodgy earlier version. In the Second Symphony the new version is less different from its predecessor (apart from the extensive incorporation of unwritten melodic ornamentation in the last two movements); as before, Zinman graciously resists the temptation to overplay the second movement’s moto perpetuo quality. This new Rhenish offers some distinctive moments – in the first movement Zinman heavily parses the opening melody (usually played as a long, lyrical effusion), and the horn-calls heralding the recapitulation have rarely sounded so brilliant, in part because Zinman insists on Schumann’s pianissimo marking for the accompaniment. Perhaps the most striking moment comes in the fourth movement, where Zinman’s conception identifies Schumann as a forebear of Nielsen by highlighting the nervous, disruptive theme that eventually menaces primary melodic material. The performance of the Fourth Symphony has more of a lilt than most; as in the Second, Zinman introduces some unwritten melodic ornamentation. I value this new set for its insight and energy, but the version that sets my spirits soaring and arms waving more than any other is Wolfgang Sawallisch’s with the Dresden Staatskapelle. It offers fuller recorded sound, but more importantly Sawallisch transcends his customary complacency to communicate directly and urgently (and, in the Second, in a long-breathed, cumulative conception) through music of which he seems to have found the expressive heart. David Breckbill

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