Schumann: Szenen aus goethes faust

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Szenen aus goethes faust
PERFORMER: William Dazeley (baritone), Camilla Nylund (soprano), Kristinn Sigmundsson (bass); Chapelle Royale Collegium Vocale, RIAS Chamber Choir, Orchestre des Champs-Elysees/Philippe Herreweghe
Schumann’s most important choral work dates from the last decade of his life: the dramatic scenes of the first two parts were composed in 1849 and 1850, whereas the visionary third part (which sets the final scene of Goethe’s epic poem, the same text used by Mahler in his Eighth Symphony) had been completed a few years earlier. Though still a comparative rarity in the concert hall and on disc, its reputation has been enjoying something of a revival recently, which Herreweghe’s splendid new recording – the first on period instruments – should further enhance. Herreweghe and his fine French orchestra have already been much admired in Schumann’s symphonies and concertos, and the advantages of period instruments in sorting out Schumann’s occasionally clumsy orchestration are obvious. There are many moments of luminous beauty involving the lower strings, in particular, but the playing throughout is of the highest standard, as is the choral singing. Herreweghe’s conception of the piece is less overtly dramatic than Claudio Abbado’s in his marvellous Sony recording made (also live) with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1994. The Abbado boasts a starrier solo line-up, headed by Bryn Terfel’s commanding Faust and featuring Karita Mattila, Barbara Bonney and Susan Graham; Herreweghe’s team is well-matched, but only William Dazeley’s urgently sung Faust really leaps consistently off the page. Herreweghe opts for the revised, longer version of the final Chorus mysticus, which arguably makes a better ending; while Abbado uses a boys’ choir in Part 3 (not specified in the score but highly effective). In any case, if you prefer period instruments the Herreweghe can be safely recommended. Stephen Maddock