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

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 2 in C; Symphony No. 3 in E flat (Rhenish)
PERFORMER: London Philharmonic/Franz Welser-Möst
This is the second time the London Philharmonic has recorded these symphonies in two years; the first time round it was with Kurt Masur, who galvanised the orchestra into top form. With Welser-Möst they’re not so much galvanised as respectably efficient. His version of the Scherzo of the Second Symphony is careful rather than urgent; there’s no sparkle in the strings’ pattering ‘moto perpetuo’. Welser-Möst seems more comfortable in the slow movements, which he takes in an expansive, soft-grained sort of way. His tempi are generally slow, but he paces things well, and makes what teachers call ‘musical shapes’ with the phrases. He’s always the soul of tact – unlike Masur, who can act the drill-sergeant at times. But somehow it fails to register any sense of individuality.

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What Welser-Möst misses is the adolescent impetuousness of the music, which keeps breaking through the veneer of the respectable symphonist. This isn’t just a question of tempo. The beginning of the Rhenish Symphony can be taken quite steadily, provided the joyousness of the syncopated rhythms is caught. It wasn’t caught on this recording, alas. Here, as elsewhere, Masur’s recording is the one that makes you sit up and take notice.

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Even better than Masur, though, is Sawallisch’s version from the early Seventies with the Dresden Staatskapelle, also on EMI. Ivan Hewett