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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings
ALBUM TITLE: Schumann Symphonies Nos 1-4
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1-4
PERFORMER: Berlin Philharmonic/Simon Rattle


Simon Rattle’s Schumann cycle differs from nearly all others in that he opts for the rarely heard original version of the D minor Symphony No. 4 in place of the familiar revised score. Schumann composed it in 1841, hard on the heels of the Spring Symphony No. 1, but he returned to it a full decade later, rewriting some of the transitions between sections, adding repeats to the outer movements, and recasting the finale’s main theme. Some of the changes benefitted the music, but unfortunately Schumann also reinforced the scoring with instrumental doublings, making the outer movements sound unduly thick. Brahms made no secret of his preference for the more transparent original – and nor does Rattle in a video interview – and his insistence on publishing it led to a serious rift between him and Clara Schumann, who regarded her husband’s last thoughts as sacrosanct.​

These are predictably fine performances, with well-judged tempos throughout, and moments such as the pianissimo fugato in the slow movement of Symphony No. 2 are spellbinding. The same work’s slow introduction has an admirable sense of mystery, and the Allegro’s central development section – always a problematic passage – is superbly shaped. One or two of Rattle’s interpretative touches sound a little self-conscious: the big ritardando in the expressive string passage from the first trio in the scherzo of No. 2, for instance, and a similar indulgence in the reprise of the scherzo in the Fourth Symphony. But these are small points. A bonus Blu-ray disc with both high-quality audio and video performances, plus video interviews, and a free download of the Symphonies in studio master quality, makes the set an attractive proposition.


Misha Donat