Robert Schumann’s four
symphonies have had a chequered career
over the past forty years on record.
There have been sets by Bernstein (twice),
Boult, Chailly, Dohnanyi, Eschenbach,
Haitink, Harnoncourt, Inbal, Janowski,
Karajan, Kubelik (twice), Levine (twice),
Marriner, Masur, Paray, Sawallisch (twice),
Schwarz, Muti, Solti, Szell, Vasary,
Vonk, Wit, in addition to the now two
cycles by Daniel Barenboim.
There is also a set
in the Mahler "reorchestration"
by Aldo Ceccato on BIS. This does not
compete with the cycles mentioned above,
but is still worth hearing.
If the truth were told,
each of the above sets has something
to offer, and none of them is really
able to be consigned to the bin. Any
new recording of these four popular
symphonies must be really special to
stand out among the competition.
cycle on DG with the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra was always thought of quite
highly and this new set is similarly
of high quality. This review is not
meant to be a comparative review of
the available sets; they were mentioned
only to show what competition there
is and whether we really do need yet
Barenboim has been
touring with the Berlin Staatskapelle
over the past few years and has been
getting the orchestra (and himself)
rave notices in the press. Unlike the
Chicago Symphony, the Berlin Staatskapelle
is steeped in the German tradition of
classical symphonic music, and whether
one feels that this set is the ultimate
in Schumann playing is not the point;
this set displays Schumann’s symphonies
in a very favourable light. The strings
are sweet and flexible, with colourful
woodwinds and clear non-strident brass.
The recordings are immediate and truthful,
and set in a believable acoustic. This
is quite unlike the audio savaging this
set suffered at the hands of Classic
FM a week or so ago. Their filtering
and compression all but destroyed these
performances, and so if you were put
off, don’t be – they sound much, much
better than the broadcast, especially
the glorious Adagio in the Symphony
It is often said that
Barenboim tries to imitate Furtwängler
in his conducting style, but I find
only rarely does he succeed in this.
It is much better, I believe, to say
that he conducts in the style of Barenboim
and leave it at that. I miss the organic
sense of forward movement which is so
evident in Furtwängler's performances.
This is a very pale copy.
This set is an improvement
on his DG set, not only because of the
technical advances in the recording
quality; the DG set was a bit strident.
Where the heavy brass in the American
ensemble is well known for flattening
audiences against the back wall of the
performance areas, the style and taste
of the German players makes for quite
a pleasant improvement.
If you have a particular
favourite among the above sets stay
with it (or them), but if you fancy
something more up to date I do urge
you to hear this set – it is very, very
attractive, and played superbly.
see also review
by Rob Barnett