Schumann: Symphonies Nos 1 & 3

WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 3
PERFORMER: The German Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra Bremen/Paavo Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: RCA 88697 96431 2


A frustratingly mixed bag. The accelerando build-up to the Allegro in the first movement of the Spring Symphony is very exciting: you can sense the life force quickening and finally boiling over. So why is the opening brass fanfare so unarresting? Granted, it’s only marked forte, in contrast to the following full-orchestral fortissimo, but surely Schumann still wants it to
command attention? Once the Allegro gets going, the rhythmic and melodic drive is admirable, but when the fanfare returns, it’s hard not to be reminded of its apologetic start.

The last two movements of the Rhenish Symphony are also very compelling: the sense of life suddenly bouncing back after the funereal solemnity of the slow fourth movement is right on target. But it takes the Symphony a while to get to this level. The first movement feels too measured, and when the first theme returns soon after the opening, Paavo Järvi’s revival of the old habit of adding horns to strengthen the imitations confuses the texture. Generally, the lightness of the chamber orchestra sound suits Schumann’s orchestral style very well. But it isn’t in the revelatory class of John Eliot Gardiner’s period-instrument cycle, which also digs deeper into the expressive guts of this music: not just the highs and lows, but the mercurial rapidity with which Schumann can plunge from one mood into the next. Järvi shows he can get close to this at times – notably the Larghetto­-Scherzo transition in the Spring Symphony – but, alas, it is only at times.


Stephen Johnson