LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; The Bride of Messina Overture
PERFORMER: NDR SO/Christoph Eschenbach
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 61820 2
The traditional view of Schumann as a poor orchestrator is, fortunately, one that no longer holds sway, and several recordings in recent years have shown just how much clarity and lightness can be achieved in his symphonies through a sympathetic balancing of their textures. These new versions from Christoph Eschenbach are a little disappointing from that point of view, with all the violins rather unhelpfully bunched on one side of the stage; but the performances themselves are stylish and alert, with an imposingly solemn ‘Cologne Cathedral’ movement in the Rhenish Symphony, and an intensely dramatic reading of No. 4. A little less impressive is the Spring Symphony, where the accelerando into the opening Allegro is rather mishandled, and the extreme slackening of tempo in the coda rather self-indulgent. And while the surge of speed in the closing pages of No. 2’s scherzo creates superficial excitement, it undermines the appearance of the Symphony’s motto theme on the trumpets. Gardiner’s otherwise outstanding period-band performance (DG Archiv) is equally guilty on this count; but Kubelík and the BPO show how well this passage can work as Schumann intended it. Both these versions can confidently be recommended, with Gardiner in particular shedding fresh light on these familiar works.
Michael Schønwandt’s disc is of interest not so much for its decent performance of the Rhenish Symphony, as for the virtually unknown Des Sängers Fluch – one of Schumann’s large-scale late ballads for voices and orchestra. An uneven piece, certainly, but its final two numbers are remarkable, and show a not-so-sneaking admiration for Wagner. Misha Donat