Schumann: Symphonies Nos 3 & 4

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: PentaTone
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 3 & 4
PERFORMER: Czech PO/Lawrence Foster
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 327

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Any recording of Schumann symphonies needs to have something special to offer if it’s going to make a mark in what is a crowded field.

Alas, these ‘live’ performances given in Prague last year are run-of-the-mill affairs, and they’re not helped by the cavernous recorded sound.

Time and again, Schumann’s memorable moments – the waves of sound, with their mysterious use of trombones, that engulf the music in the central section of No. 4’s opening movement, for instance, or the sheer exhilaration of the opening theme in the Rhenish No. 3 – make little impact because of a lack of attention to detail by the normally reliable Lawrence Foster.

Even the Czech Philharmonic itself doesn’t sound like the world-class orchestra it is.

This is, in short, music that needs greater drama at one end of the scale, and lightness at the other (the ‘tripping’ semiquaver figures in the Rhenish Symphony’s Ländler-like second movement sound particularly leaden here).

Only in the finale of No. 4 does the playing at last seem to spring to life – but by then it’s a good deal too late.

Among preferable alternatives, Rafael Kubelík and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra offer fine accounts in traditional mould, and at bargain price, too.

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But for recordings that really grip your attention from first to last, it’s worth investing in John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, whose triple-album includes Schumann’s two widely-diverging versions of Symphony No. 4, as well as the Overture, Scherzo and Finale and the equally substantial Konzertstück for four horns. Misha Donat