Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
CD 1
Symphony No. 1 in B flat op. 38 Spring (1841) [33:35]
Symphony No. 2 in C op. 61 (1847) [38:47]
CD 2
Symphony No. 3 in E flat op. 97 Rhenish (1851) [32:34]
Symphony No. 4 in D minor op. 120 (1851) [32:08]
Haydn Orchestra of Bolzano and Trento/Gustav Kuhn
rec. live, Auditorium Haydn, Bolzano, Jan-Apr 2010, DDD
COL LEGNO CLASSICS WWE 2CD 60021 [72:22 + 64:42]

There is a wealth of alternative Schumann cycles out there. Few were recorded - as this one was - in the presence of an audience and with applause. Visually this austerity-plus set from Col Legno does not exactly clamour for your attention. There are no glaring colour schemes or young artists on the cover so let me commend this set to you despite such self-effacing professionalism.
These performances are presented in Col Legno's trademark non-sensational and dignified way. The label has confidence in the music and in the interpreters. The design values are subdued but the performances defy the sobriety of presentation and the understated lavender colour-scheme.
Gustav Kuhn is to be praised for finding the electrically rippling fantasy that transforms Schumann's symphonies from the diurnal and pedestrian to vehicles for rattling pulse acceleration and poetic self-absorption. The Haydn Orchestra of Bolzano and Trento deliver precisely drilled yet emotionally eloquent playing. I was particularly impressed by the last two numbered symphonies. These positively glow under such a good bass response coupled with plenty of tension and drama. There’s that sense of a dog straining at a taut lead and then unleashed in exuberant racing freedom. All four works come to you complete with applause from an otherwise tacit audience.
Barenboim (Warner Teldec), Vonk and Sawallisch (both on EMI), Beermann (CPO) and Kubelik (both 1960s DG - now Eloquence - and 1970s CBS-Sony) and Szell (Sony) are all excellent. Boult in historical yet forthright sound with the LPO is kinetic and testy, irritable almost. He’s well worth encountering on a First Hand Records double. So is Konwitschny on Berlin Classics. Muti struck me when I heard his recent Newton Classics set as far too fervid - febrile almost; much better in his earlier EMI cycle. The present Col Legno pair belongs in the best of this exalted historic company but brings to your CD deck or MP3 player good and naturally believable sound. Stereo separation is distinct and satisfying
This set continues a classical standards line established by other Col Legno releases – though using other conductors and orchestras – including Brahms’ four symphonies in 2008 (WWE 2CD 60015) and Beethoven’s nine in 2007 (WWE 5CD 60008).
One minor irritation: why present the list of works and timings in lavender font printed on a brick-red ground. It’s illegible in most lights. Everything else is sensibly done.
The useful notes – in German, English and Italian – are by Walter Müller.
Deflect the abnegation of the packaging long enough to buy and you will be surprised how good this is. It’s by no means the least in a field bursting with choice.
Rob Barnett

Deflect the abnegation of the packaging and you will be surprised how good this is.