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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
The Symphonies

Symphony No.1, "Spring", in B flat major, Op.38 (1841)
Symphony No.2 in C major, Op.61 (1845/46)
Symphony No.3 in E flat major, Op.97 (1850)
Symphony No.4 in D minor, Op.120 (1841/51)
Scherzo in G minor from Symphony in C minor (fragment, 1841) reconstructed and orchestrated by Joachim Draheim
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra/Douglas Bostock
Recorded in Aufgenommen in Dum hudby, Pardubice, Czech Republic, March and July 2002
CLASSICO CLASSCD 431/32 [2CDs: 128:28]
Comparison: Sawallisch/EMI

Readers of classical record reviews often find it bewildering that the same performance can elicit extremely wide differences in opinion. I am even surprised when another reviewerís conclusions are the opposite of mine. Upon reflection, itís only natural that opinions might greatly diverge. Beyond basic music structure including the element of contrast, music is a highly emotional field. It has been with us since the beginning of humankind because of its impact on our hearts and souls, not our brains. The best a reviewer can do is point out general preferences and/or prejudices in order to give readers a fighting chance to break through the spectrum of personal opinion and make favorable buying decisions.

Douglas Bostock, the conductor of this new set of Schumannís Symphonies, has consistently received a mix of glowing and disappointing reviews. At one end, he is considered a lumbering and clumsy conductor who generally employs inadequate orchestras and dispenses with any meaningful subtlety. At the other end, he is praised as an electrifying force whose recordings fully merit space alongside the best interpretations on record.

My review might add to a readerís confusion, but I hope it will shed a little additional light on Douglas Bostock. In releasing a set of Schumannís Symphonies, both ClassicO and Bostock have entered a very highly recorded field. There are literally hundreds of recorded performances with a staggering number of them being exceptional.

First, Bostockís Schumann is hardly electrifying. He does well at conveying the musicís drama and forward momentum, but thereís nothing in these performances of a thrilling nature. Also, the volume controls need to be set very high in order for any sense of excitement to come through. In comparison, the Sawallisch readings are exciting even at low volume, as he consistently maintains strong tension.

A second concern is that the sound is on the diffuse side. Weak definition causes a reduction in tension, and thatís never a favorable condition in Schumannís Allegros. Thirdly, versions of Schumannís symphonies such as Sawallischís impart a strong dignity and stature that Bostockís often rounded attacks do not allow. This is most noticeable in slow movements, the trios of the Scherzos, and in the slow introductions to the symphonies such as the fanfare of the 1st Symphony where Bostock only offers a small percentage of the nobility flowing through Sawallischís performances.

To Bostockís credit, I do not notice any lumbering quality to his interpretations, and the orchestra fullfills its responsibilities in admirable fashion. Bostock isnít the man to take full opportunity of nuance and subtlety, but heís hardly on automatic pilot.

Finally, ClassicO touts its set of the Schumann Symphonies as being true to Schumannís wishes through use of the Breitkopf Urtext Edition which is based on Joachim Draheimís critical new edition that was published between 1993 and 2001. As the liner notes state, "The recording represents a consistent musical transposition of this new edition and refuses to make any compromises with a tradition marred by an overly free and negligent treatment of Schumannís original indications pertaining to the instrumentation and tempo".

Such smug statements may sound convincing, but I detect little difference between Bostockís and Sawallischís approaches. For better or worse, the new edition does not change the flavor of the music in the least. Bostock is a little leaner in texture than Sawallisch, but the difference is not of major proportions.

In conclusion, the new ClassicO set of Schumannís Symphonies is rewarding but not among the most compelling accounts on disc. A diffuse soundstage, lack of definition on Bostockís part, and a significant deficiency of nobility hamper the performances to the degree that I cannot recommend the set when better recordings are available at no more than the mid-price range from Sawallish on EMI, Kubelik on Deutsche Grammophon, and Szell on Sony.

Don Satz



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