Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Complete Symphonies
Symphony No.1 in B flat Op.38 Spring (1841) [33:04]
Symphony No.2 in C Op.61 (1846) [33:42]
Symphony No.3 in E flat Op.97 Rhenish (1850) [33:38]
Symphony No.4 in D minor Op.120 (1841) [32:31]
Wiener Philharmoniker/Riccardo Muti
rec. May, Oct 1993, Oct 1995, GroŖer Saal, Musikverein, Wien
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802081 [65:44 + 72:53]

This is Riccardo Mutiís second recorded cycle of the Schumann symphonies. Newton here give them new life. The last time they appeared, after first issue in the mid-1990s, was on an inexpensive Philips Duo (4685432) in 2001. The first Muti cycle was made for EMI Classics in 1976-78 in Studio 1, Abbey Road except for the two rare overtures (Hermann und Dorothea and Die Braut von Messina) which were set down in the Kingsway Hall. No sign of the overtures for the 1990s set. Looking only at the four symphonies here are the timings of the EMI recordings: No. 1 [33:48], No. 2 [36:41], No. 3 [35:47], No. 4 [31:53].

The signature of Mutiís Vienna cycle is that of a V12 power unit driven sleek, fast and smooth. His orchestra is a superlative outfit with a string section of seemingly invincible capabilities. Details are deeply etched and attentively italicised. The sound is uniform and exemplary. That said, itís all too chromium-steel even by comparison with Mutiís own 1970s self. Thereís no doubting the awe-struck excitement but the yielding humanity is pushed back to the distant stalls. I spent quite a bit of time with the second CD (2 and 3 ). These two symphonies are the ones I listen to for pleasure. However itís as if this No. 2 is in autopilot. It left me completely unmoved. The experience just flowed over my ears. Nothing remained when it was over. The Third was different, I grant you. It is excitingly done but the poetic movements went for very little. The finale however I had to play several times. It has the zesty spinal buzz of a top of the range Mercedes S Class driven very fast indeed Ė at least if you can believe Jeremy Clarkson. Muti lays bare the leonine power of the music. Even so, the Vienna horns are too discreetly placed and have a bludgeoning iron roar rather than an imperious brazen-golden bloom.

This is certainly a set worth hearing for an encounter with an exultantly driven elite orchestra. However thatís only a part of the picture. If you want that part mapped onto Schumannís four symphonies then go for this but it would not be anywhere near the top of my choices. Mutiís EMI set is to be preferred on this occasion. Better still go for Barenboim (Teldec), Beermann (CPO), Sawallisch (EMI), Vonk (EMI) or Kubelik (Sony or Eloquence). If you are tolerant of older sound then donít overlook Boult (First Hand) or Konwitschny (Berlin Classics). The fluently literate and accessible notes are by Anthony Burton (also in German and French).

Rob Barnett

Only one part of the picture.