Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Orchestral Music
Symphony no. 1 in B flat major, Op. 38 Spring (1841) [31:12]
Symphony no. 4 in D minor, Op. 120 (1851) [27:35]
Overture, Scherzo and Finale in E minor, Op. 52 [17:06]
Symphony no. 2 in C major, Op. 61 (1845-1846) [37:23]
Symphony no. 3 in E flat major, Op. 97 Rhenish (1850) [33:18]
Die Braut von Messina, overture Op. 100 [7:37]
Concerto for Violin in D minor (1853) [30:00]
Concerto for Cello in A minor, Op. 129 (1850) [24:46]
Manfred, Op. 115: Overture in E flat minor (1848-1849) [11:35]
Hermann and Dorothea Overture in B minor, Op. 136 (1851) [9:15]
Concerto for Piano in A minor, Op. 54 (1841-1845) [29:25]
Konzertstück for 4 Horns and Orchestra in F major, Op. 86 (1849 ) [18:57]
Genoveva, overture Op. 81 (1846-49) [8:56]
Introduction and Allegro appassionato for Piano and Orchestra in G major, Op. 92 (1849) [16:34]
Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin); Truls Mřrk (cello); Christian Zacharias (Piano); Joachim Pölti (French Horn), Kathleen Putnam (French Horn), Andrew Joy (French Horn), Rainer Jurkiewicz (French Horn); Daniel Barenboim (piano) (Intro and Allegro)
Dresden Staatskapelle/Wolfgang Sawallisch (symphonies); Philharmonia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti (Braut; Herman); Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hans Vonk (Violin Concerto, Cello Concerto, Manfred, Konzertstück, Genoveva); Philharmonia Orchestra/Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Intro and Allegro)
rec. 1972-1993, Dresden, London, Köln, ADD, DDD
EMI CLASSICS 6090372 [4 CDs: 77:14 + 78:54 + 75:39 + 73:53]

This is one of four splendid sets issued by EMI Classics to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Schumann’s birth. The other three sets uniform with this orchestral compilation are Piano (6090472) Chamber Music (6090112) and Lieder (6090222). The four discs are housed in a rather vulnerable double-width case with a booklet comprising full listings and discographical details as well as a new context essay by Nicholas Marston

The first pair of discs largely comprise Sawallisch's sturdy and potently full-on LP-era set of the Schumann symphonies (review). They’re well enough known and multiply reissued. For those who have not heard them Sawallisch plays them up a storm - there's no holding him back and their approaching forty years vintage seems an irrelevance. There's something of the fire of Muti and Barenboim here but Sawallisch manages to steer clear of the relentless ferocity of Munch and Cantelli. It all sounds big and full-blooded. The remarkable unanimity and sharp-edges of the Dresden Staatskapelle add greatly to the grand effect. Sawallisch is no slouch in the terracing and building of tension either as the finale of the Fourth instantly shows. Sawallisch makes the finale of the Overture, Scherzo and Finale stream with light.

These discs are extremely well filled - no complaints possible on that front - a pity EMI could not offer us a Julius Caesar overture though - Solti made something of a triumph of this wallflower overture.

Turning to CD 2: The Second Symphony emerges with Brucknerian mystery. There’s also that lithely surging power typical of the finest orchestral Schumann but not losing the Weberian fantasy. It's very exciting and not playing to anyone's idea of routine. The final allegro molto vivace is grandeur exemplified and reminded me of the finale of Mendelssohn's Scottish. Next comes the Rhenish with its blushing and blooming French Horns. They’re glorious as is the see-saw ebb and flow of the Scherzo. The liberation of the final Lebhaft is joyous and exciting as the swains throw their hats in the air. Kubelik (DG or the later CBS-Sony) is very good in this work but Sawallisch is outstanding and his French horns are roaringly spectacular caught in full cry. In its different way this as pleasing as the brass benches in the Unicorn Horenstein's Mahler 3. Here the horns have a more rounded burr. Sawallisch strikes lightning from this score … wow, the brass at 4:20! I lament that Sawallisch never recorded Schmidt 's Second Symphony.

There's no doubting that some analogue shortcomings can be felt in the finale of the Third Symphony … for all of its glories. A different venue – the classic Kingsway Hall in London - and several years lighter helps Muti in the little known Die Braut von Messina. It’s a neatly turned passionate concert overture with plenty of thunder and thrust in its DNA.

CDs 3 and 4 are built around the concertos as conducted by Hans Vonk (see review) with divagations for Muti (Hermann und Dorothea) and Fischer-Dieskau conducting the Philharmonia for Barenboim's Introduction and Allegro Appassionato. It's not the complete complement of concertante works though = missing is the other work for piano and orchestra: the Introduction and Allegro in D minor for piano and orchestra Op. 134.

The Violin Concerto is an attractive work with plenty of romance and pre-echoes of the Brahms Double Concerto. It is to be ranked in atmosphere with the Dvorák and the Mendelssohn. This is the most recent of the recordings - from 1992; it sounds very healthy. I am afraid the Cello Concerto holds my attention only intermittently yet it is played more often than the Joachim-inspired Violin Concerto. It is superbly recorded here as are all the Vonk tracks. Vonk also produced, very successfully, a cycle of Schumann symphonies which have ultimately emerged on EMI Redline. They could easily stand more exposure. The Vonk Manfred is another passionate reading from the Köln orchestra.

Back to the Kingsway Hall and Muti in 1978 for Hermann und Dorothea with its braggartry and fragments of The Marseillaise or something that sounds devilishly close to it. Despite - or perhaps because of - its high opus number it is more of an entertaining curiosity but good to have especially in this no holds barred performance. It becomes easier to take it seriously after the first couple of minutes.

The final disc in this useful collection drawn from a richly populated EMI archive gives us a splendidly imaginative Piano Concerto with a much underrated artist in the shape of Christian Zacharias. He also features elsewhere in the four sets. Between Vonk and Zacharias the work is re-imagined and freshened without recourse to anything smacking of artificiality. It works a treat and is deeply satisfying. The recording is to match. The finale is superbly emphatic and propulsive. Majesty and love meet on equal terms.

The Konzertstück is also to be relished and deserves more than its demands for four horn-players have dictated. This 1849 piece continues to please all lovers of the French Horn. It's a strong mixture in this recording and the sound of the four horn-players is everything we would wish. There's no fifth to bolster or at least none announced. The sound is splendid. This quartet leans on the rattle and rasp rather than the aureate roar. Very exciting too.

Vonk's Genoveva is thoughtful and lyrical while it builds tension and finds its release.

The set plays out with a surprisingly impressive 1974 recording presided over by Suvi Raj Grubb. This has Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau conducting the Philharmonia with Barenboim as pianist. I am not sure why it has not previously been issued. I don’t recall seeing it before. This Introduction and Allegro is tenderly done yet with plenty of élan for the allegro episodes. The inspiration may not be quite as exalted as the best in Schumann but it is a pleasure nonetheless.

I think EMI has missed a trick in not serving up a further set or sets comprising their recordings of the Schuman choral-orchestral pieces including Das Paradies und die Peri, Die Rosepilgerfahrt, Genoveva, Manfred and the Requiem. A shame these pieces have been left out especially when EMI have excellent versions – sometimes twice over - in their archive. Perhaps later in the year ... please.

I have always had a strong predilection for Schumann and this box is both a great place to start out as well as a supplement to your already burgeoning Schumann shelf. One of these days I hope to catch up with Aldo Ceccato's BIS recordings of the symphonies as re-orchestrated by Gustav Mahler.

There's no direct competition for this set which mixes symphonies, overtures and concertos.
It's no wonder the components of this set have won so many laurels. Don’t be put off by any prejudice against analogue. This music-making transcends such collateral considerations.

Rob Barnett

It's no wonder the components of this set have won so many laurels.