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Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major Op. 38 (Spring) (1841) [32:58]
Symphony No. 4 in D-Minor Op. 120 (1841, rev. 1851) [33:16]
Deutsche Radio Philharmonie/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
rec. 20-23 March 2007, Grosser Sendesaal des SR, Saarbrücken
Text and 007 OEHMS catalogue included

Before we get to the music there’s a bit of nomenclature that has to be cleared up. The Deutsche Radio Philharmonie is a recent conflation of two orchestras-the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra (SR), of which Skrowaczewski has long been Principal Guest Conductor, and the Radio Orchestra Kaiserlautern (SWR). The 2007-2008 season is the new ensemble’s first and the orchestra will divide its time between the two towns. While all the labeling on this disc and its packaging indicate that the new orchestra is performing the two Schumann works, the textual notes reveal that only the SR is performing. A soon-to-be recorded disc of the Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3, also conducted by Skrowaczewski, will be made with the new orchestra.
Right off the bat one notices that Skrowaczewski’s interpretation is going to be a tight and clipped one and this is also mostly true with the fourth symphony. A portentous introduction to the first symphony quickly yields to a first theme that is overly scherzo-like and a second theme that is also a little too quick and light. The tight pace continues up to the recapitulation, which is more evenly handled, leading to a lovely coda. Throughout the movement the orchestra follows the conductor with total conviction. The slow movement is not as songlike as in some interpretations but Skrowaczewski shows real mastery in his manipulation of the rhythmic irregularities which characterize this movement. The string section plays with increasing tension through to the movement’s end. The Scherzo features the best playing in the symphony. As is well known there are two scherzos and two trios. In the first scherzo the conductor has total control of the players, producing a perfect mixture of lightness and precision. He has equal control over the first trio, although this could be better contrasted with the surrounding scherzos. The second trio is absolutely flawless. Here the woodwinds demonstrate the same ability as the strings in the slow movement. In the last movement the conductor’s pace stabilizes to a more even gait, enabling the entire orchestra to play with great precision, almost like a group of soloists. The elfin mood of Schumann’s original program comes through in the playing, though the orchestral sense is never lost, leading to a definitive ending.
Skrowaczewski’s clipped style is also evident in the fourth symphony, although not to the same degree as in the first. It must also be said that this style works better in a work with four interlinked movements and a variety of mood-shifts. The string playing here is even finer than in the first symphony, notably in the second subject, although conductor and orchestra somewhat lose their momentum in the section that substitutes for a recapitulation. The string introduction to the Romanze is beautifully played at an almost dream-like pace and is extremely well-phrased, which continues to the end of the movement. Once again the Scherzo contains two scherzos and two trios. In the first scherzo the conductor’s crisp approach pays off in that it provides contrast with what is to follow and adds a Beethovenian sense to the movement. Trio I is more meandering, but the second scherzo is extremely subtle and paves the way for the second trio where pauses and omitted notes transform the first trio from sunny to mysterious. Skrowaczewski leads this imperceptibly into the last movement and elicits beautiful playing from the orchestra in the main part of the movement.
The recording on this disc is very clear, if a little close-in. My biggest complaint was that the sound of the basses sometimes got smudged. But as mentioned above, individual instruments and pairs come through with great clarity. This clarity, combined with the conductor’s drive and precision, make this disc one that will not appeal to every Schumann fan. However it offers an original and distinctive way of looking at well-known music.
William Kreindler


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