Schumann: Symphony No. 2; Carnaval (orch. Ravel); Kinderjahr (orch. Adorno)

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Carnaval (orch. Ravel); Kinderjahr (orch. Adorno)
PERFORMER: RPO/Dirk Joeres
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1055
No complaints about clichéd couplings here. Schumann’s much-recorded Second Symphony is enterprisingly paired with what survives of Ravel’s orchestration of Carnaval, made for a Nijinsky ballet in 1914, and a transcription of numbers from the Album for the Young by Theodor Adorno, like Nietzsche a great philosopher with a modest talent for composition. Ravel’s orchestrations are predictably deft and glittering, full of kaleidoscopically shifting wind colours. Adorno’s work is essentially an exercise in nostalgia. Some of the orchestration is merely efficient, though there are inventive touches like the eerie muted trumpet in ‘Erinnerung’, and the atmospheric use of the bass clarinet here and in ‘Winterzeit’. The performances, though decent enough, are not specially alluring, with a want of flexibility in the phrasing.

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In the Second Symphony, a troubled, obsessive, ultimately triumphant work penned while Schumann was recovering from depression, Joeres certainly gets some fine playing from the RPO; and he knows how to whip up the tension in, say, the final stages of the outer movements. He is less happy, though, with Schumann in whimsical or introspective vein: the first trio of the scherzo, for instance, is earthbound, with an awkward handling of tempo fluctuations, and the sublime, brooding Adagio, taken dangerously slowly, needs greater intensity of line and a subtler, more idiomatic feeling for rubato. Sawallisch’s searching, far-seeing 1972 recording, gloriously executed by the Dresden Staatskapelle, still leads the field, despite memorable recent offerings from the likes of Gardiner, Sinopoli and Thielemann. Richard Wigmore