Symphony No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 38; Manfred, Op. 115 – Overture; Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 97
London Symphony Orchestra/John Eliot Gardiner
LSO Live LSO0844 71.40 mins
Now in his late 70s, John Eliot Gardiner seems to have embarked on a second spring rather than an Indian summer. The Schumann symphonies on his second instalment of the cycle are bottled sunshine – with the exception of the noble ‘Cologne Cathedral’ movement of the Rhenish, where Gardiner’s Bach experience avoids dark portentousness – punctuated by the Manfred Overture’s restlessness. Even there gutty strings, with little vibrato but just the right amount of portamento, help prevent the music ever sinking into gloom.
When I interviewed Gardiner some time before the series launched back in spring 2018, not having experienced his way with Mendelssohn, I wasn’t prepared for the shock of the new from the results of all players standing other than cellos, double-basses and timpanist, energy palpable from the soles of the feet upwards. You wouldn’t know it here, of course, but you can appreciate a buoyancy and a lightness, as well as a contradiction of the incorrect cliché that Schumann couldn’t orchestrate; the wind writing gets all the winsomeness it deserves, inner rippling lines are clear, and ensembles never hector. Accent and colour drive home how the three inner movements of the Rhenish are in a constant state of self-renewal – Schumann was such an innovator here – and the finale of the Spring Symphony is pure joy which is why, in spite of the numbering and chronology, I’d probably play them in reverse order for listening at a single setting. A fine, clear sonic spectrum means that the dryish Barbican acoustics don’t lessen the pleasure of the listening experience. David Nice