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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61 [39:56]
Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120 (revised version, 1851) [29:22]
Orchestra dell’ Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Sir Antonio Pappano
rec. live, November 2010 (4), November 2012 (2)

The long-time conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, Georg Szell was a great champion of Schumann’s music, especially the four symphonies. These were, in Szell’s mind, the works which created the romantic symphony. He wouldn’t hear of suggestions that the composer was a poor orchestrator. Somewhat paradoxically, he did alter the composer’s scoring by getting rid of certain doublings in the interests of “clarity” – and advised his “younger colleagues” to do likewise.

The Second Symphony in C major was the third in order of composition, coming after the original version of his D minor symphony which was later revised and published as No. 4. The triumph and optimism of the C major symphony belies the fact that it was written during a period of poor health.

The slow brass and woodwind chorales which commence the first movement may have been inspired by Bach, Schumann having written the Six Organ Fugues on B-A-C-H, Op. 60, shortly before the symphony. As Nicholas Attfield’s detailed booklet notes report, Pappano does not linger in the introduction but presses on, judiciously increasing the speed to prepare the listener for the start of the movement’s Allegro, ma non troppo. Under Pappano, the orchestra plays this with warmth, vitality and sensitivity to nuance, so that the repeat – which he rightly includes – does not outstay its welcome but adds to the stature of the work. Szell’s otherwise admirable recording omits this repeat, arguably to its disadvantage.

The second movement is a scherzo with two trios. The second trio has a quiet chorale, employing the B-A-C-H motif, which Pappano emphasises in a way that relates it to the first trio. He is splendid in contrasting the trios with the boisterous scherzo passages which surround them.

The third movement, an elegiac Adagio espressivo is in the key of C minor, contrasting with the C major of the rest of the work. Its reflective mood is perfectly captured by the sensitive playing - initially by the first violins and the oboe. Pappano’s skilful balancing and ear for detail prevents the central contrapuntal section from sounding incongruous.

The finale is in sonata-form and includes a theme related to the Adagio. A later theme draws inspiration from two Beethoven works: the last song from An die ferne Geliebte and the Ode to Joy. The coda recalls themes from the chorale-like beginning of the symphony. The recalls of material from earlier movements ensure, in the words of the annotator, “an ecstatic gesture of fulfilment with which to round off this most unified of symphonies”. Pappano integrates all these elements into a single river of music, bringing the performance to a vital and poetic conclusion.

Szell’s recording of the Second, which is part of his celebrated Sony set of the four symphonies (review) is described in the American Record Guide’s Schumann Overview (September/October 2004) as “glowing” and “triumphant”. I agree and would apply the same terms to Pappano’s and his orchestra’s slightly more expansive performance.

The Fourth Symphony in D minor heard on this disc is the 1851 revised version; the original was Schumann’s second in order of composition. It appears that Clara Schumann insisted that the 1851 version was superior, despite being heavier and less transparent in texture than its predecessor. The Schumanns’ friend, Johannes Brahms, took the opposite view and defied Clara’s wishes by publishing the 1841 version in 1891.

Schumann uses a conventional four movement structure - with German-language tempo indications in the 1851 version. However, he attempted to craft a single, unified piece of music by means of repetition. This is accentuated by the linking of motifs with material heard at the beginning and the elimination of pauses between movements.

Pappano does not linger over the opening Ziemlich langsam (‘Moderately slow’) before moving to the main Lebhaft (‘Lively’) part of the first movement. Here, he again uses skill in revealing details which relieve the repetition and maintain our interest. He follows Klemperer and Furtwängler in retaining the exposition repeat, whereas Szell does not.

The short, second movement Romanze: Ziemlich langsam (‘Romance: Moderately slow’) has a central section which should be dominated by its solo violin triplets. In comparison with many performances, the violin here tends to get swamped by the accompanying instruments. I suspect this is a fault of recording rather than performance – this is a ‘live’ production. There is ample compensation in the sensitive woodwind playing which follows.

In the Scherzo, the Lebhaft (‘Lively’) music has links to the first movement, while the violin line of the trio has references to the violin solo in the centre of the Romanze. This is satisfyingly balanced as well as beautifully played.

The scherzo is connected to the fourth movement by a Langsam (‘Slow’) passage which Szell’s relative haste rather underplays; this symphony is not, I feel, the most memorable of his recorded cycle. Pappano gives the passage its full value before conducting a majestic and sweeping account of the Lebhaft (‘Lively’) part of the movement. The conductor’s unified account of the whole work convincingly underlines Attfield’s comment that its four movements can be seen as a massive sonata-form.

While this performance is unquestionably authoritative, all available recordings yield to Otto Klemperer’s 1962 live performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra (available in Pristine Audio’s Klemperer in Philadelphia, Vol 2review). Klemperer's command of structure is second to none and he triumphs - particularly in the finale - by means of his unparalleled intensity. He is a few seconds faster in every movement than Pappano, who is certainly not slow.

A word about ICA’s sound for Pappano’s orchestra. While it seems warm enough when the orchestra is playing relatively softly, it develops an unwelcome ‘edge’ during louder passages. This may have resulted from close microphone placement intended to minimize audience noise. Regardless of the cause, the effect will be distracting for most listeners. But for this matter, these Pappano performances would probably be the top choice for modern recordings of these symphonies.

Rob W McKenzie



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