Schumann: Symphony No. 2 in C; Manfred Overture; Konzertstück

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WORKS: Symphony No. 2 in C; Manfred Overture; Konzertstück
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Christian Thielemann
CATALOGUE NO: 453 482-2
In the spirit of Carlos Kleiber’s Beethoven and Brahms, these inspired performances must surely become legendary. Passionately endorsing Weingartner’s opinion of Schumann’s symphonies as works of ‘genuine fire, purity and depth of feeling’, equally refuting his criticism of their orchestration as colouristically a matter of ‘grey on grey’, Thielemann, music director of the Berlin Deutsche Oper, offers an unforgettable picture of the Second. Aristocratic, arrogant, playful, poetic, gloriously blazing, it’s a reading of tangibly Beethovenian accent (repeats observed), of oceanic, adrenalin-charged harmonies and subterranean-rooted bass lines, of electrifyingly placed rhythms, of sustained phrasing and theatrically Mahlerian pauses. In sum, it’s about old-world freedom from the printed page, flexible tempi and rubatos, bared emotions, high fantasy. You won’t hear a more sovereign imagination at work than in the scherzo, with its radical ritenutos, slower trios and accelerating coda, or in the Adagio, worthy of Furtwängler in the almost painful intensity generated. Nourished by a century of German Romantic aesthetic and performance tradition, Thielemann’s vision is consuming, as is his attention to detail, weight and attack. The Philharmonia has rarely played like this since the days of Karajan and Klemperer: the sound and recording (All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London) is magnificent. Manfred (notwithstanding studio noise at the very start) and the rarely heard Konzertstück for four horns, brilliantly dispatched (no individual credits, though), are likewise the fruit of imperious music-making. Ates Orga