Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Manfred - Overture Op.115 (1852) [11:15]
Symphony No.2 in C Op.61 (1845-46) [33:51]
Symphony No.4 in D minor Op.120 (1841 rev 1851) [24:05]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini, rec. 10 October 1946 (Manfred) and 17 March 1946 (Symphony)
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Bruno Walter, rec. 2 March 1940
GUILD GHCD 2362 [69:22]
The rubric under which this disc flies is the 200th anniversary of Schumannís birth, but thatís a rather tenuous celebratory tag. The real fulcrum is the NBC Symphony and three impressive performances from the 1940s. Obviously one should expect Toscanini to preside, and he does, over the Manfred overture and the Second Symphony. But we also hear Bruno Walterís 1940 broadcast of the Fourth Symphony.
Manfred was recorded live in October 1946 and is subject to Toscaniniís purposeful, characterful and Egmont-evoking splendour. Lines are clear and dynamic, and the music-making is serious, directional and intensely driven. The Second Symphony was performed earlier in the year and shares the qualities that make Manfred so impressive a document, though some may perhaps feel the rather unrelieved symphonic argument too thrusting and intense. In this respect, then, many will prefer the surviving 1941 performance. The 1946 is brisk but has a relatively relaxed finale, though itís not as metrically flexible as the earlier account. Nevertheless though there is some brusque phrasing in the slow movement Ė taken characteristically unsentimentally and quickly Ė there is still much to admire in the leanly phrased string playing and rhythmically charged strength. I happen to feel there are insufficient contrasts between movements and that Toscanini is too inflexible. He also amends the score, which is not a matter dealt with in the notes. There are some amendments in the first movement coda and in the finale, where trumpet parts are re-jigged, though this was by no means, as we know, an unusual practice then Ė or indeed, sometimes, now.
Bruno Walter didnít record the Second Symphony and Toscanini didnít record the Fourth, so there is symmetry at work in this compilation. Walterís Fourth (March 1940) has a vibrant, no-nonsense directness not entirely unrelated to Toscaniniís own sense of motoric cohesion. Walter conducts the 1851 edition of the score, and does so with a vigorous and purposeful sense of line. He retains his youthful thrust and dynamism in this performance, one that abjures the more adamantine and etiolated approaches of such as Furtwšngler Ė an approach deeply impressive on its own terms.
The transfers have been well effected, but whether symphonic performances from two such disparate conductors appeals as a compilation is a matter only you can decide.
Walter didnít record the Second and Toscanini didnít record the Fourth, so there is symmetry at work here.