Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphony No. 4 in D minor (original version) [22:46]
Symphony in G minor, “Zwickau” [19:45]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 4 in A, “Italian” (revised version) [30:31]
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Marc Andreae
rec. 13-17 January, 2014, Joseph Keilberth Hall, Konzerthalle Bamberg, Germany
GUILD GMCD7412 [73:02]
Veteran conductor Marc Andreae spices up this Schumann and Mendelssohn pairing by presenting the less well-known versions of these composers’ Fourth Symphonies. The Schumann is in its original, shorter, more transparent scoring, while the Mendelssohn performance is in the composer’s revised version, rather different from the one we know and love. The performances match the interest of these two rarer works.
Schumann’s Fourth exists in an original and a revised form. The revised version was the standard until comparatively recently; indeed, Marc Andreae can claim to have conducted the original version’s 20th century premiere in the 1980s. It has since been recorded by conductors like John Eliot Gardiner, and to me at least, it is clearly superior to the more famous revised piece. The reason is simple: it’s more concise. Schumann’s original symphonic vision eschewed all the “extras” and pared down the structure and ideas to the minimum necessary, with smooth and speedy transitions from one movement to the next. It also has simpler, lighter orchestration.
Mendelssohn’s revised Italian symphony is a bit peculiar. It removes some entire episodes, like the minor-key climax at the end of the third movement. It adds others, like a fugue to the finale. (Don’t worry, it’s not a stern fugue; it somehow maintains the light tarantella dance spirit while engaging in counterpoint, which is an impressive achievement.) In many places, harmonies are changed or simplified. Overall, I would say that the changes can be summarized as an attempt to be stricter in terms of thematic material. Mendelssohn was, apparently, simplifying.
The Italian Symphony’s alternate version may not supplant the original in my affection, but it is very much worth hearing, and different enough for connoisseurs to take note. The Schumann symphony’s alternate version, meanwhile, is clearly superior (to my ears). This is, however, only a second-best recording to Gardiner’s, which has an extra clarity to its orchestral sound, at least in part because Gardiner’s band plays in period instruments.
The bonus is Schumann’s early and unfinished “Zwickau” symphony. Marc Andreae explains in his booklet essay that he has slightly altered the orchestration of the second, and final, movement. The goal was to make a more satisfying conclusion, like the Schubert Unfinished. Unfortunately, I don’t find this student work interesting at all. It’s not Andreae’s fault, nor his orchestra’s; Schumann was quite simply writing some of his least inspired music. The student had a long way to go to realize his full potential.
Andreae is so familiar with these less-popular versions of the symphonies that he leads them with great command and verve. The recorded sound may not be perfect (in the development section of Schumann’s first movement, some inner string voices get lost), but it is overall perfectly good. I especially recommend this disc if you don’t have the box of John Eliot Gardiner’s complete Schumann recordings, although that is now reissued at a super-budget price, so you have no excuse. This new disc will reward curious listeners who love these composers.