Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 (Spring) & 2
PERFORMER: Royal Stockholm PO/Sakari Oramo
CATALOGUE NO: 88697437072

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These are impressive accounts, with Oramo coaxing some outstanding playing from his fine Swedish orchestra. Particularly successful are the opening movement of the Spring Symphony, with its balletic lightness admirably captured, and the slow movement in both works, where Oramo conveys all the sense of yearning ecstasy so essential to the music.

The Adagio of No. 2 has the tragic atmosphere of a Bach Passion, and in Oramo’s hands the fugato passage at its centre, held throughout at a genuine pianissimo, is a breathtaking moment. Oramo takes the finale of the same symphony at tremendous speed, making it impossible not to get carried up in the music’s sweep and energy.

In the case of the Spring Symphony, Schumann wanted the finale to be both animated and graceful, and conductors have been struggling ever since to reconcile his apparently contradictory demands. Oramo opts mainly for grace, but then finds himself having to increase the tempo for the central section, where the music proceeds in broader brush-strokes. His shift of gear is, however, sensitively handled and less jarring than is often the case with other conductors.

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No less problematic is the Scherzo of No. 2, whose first-violin part, with its continual patter of semiquavers, is notoriously hard to play. Like many conductors, Oramo adopts a fairly safe pace before speeding up for the less tricky coda, and the result makes for an undeniably exciting, if slightly superficial, ending. But there’s a great deal to enjoy in these performances, and Sony’s engineers have done them proud. Misha Donat