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RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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Georg SCHUMANN (1866-1952)
Symphony in F minor, Op. 42 (1905) [48:47]
Overture to a drama, Op. 45 (1906) [15:21]
Overture ‘Joy of life’, Op. 54 (1911) [14:40]
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/James Feddeck
rec. 2016, RBB, Saal 1, Berlin CPO 5551102 [78:51]
Until this CD came along for review, I'd never heard of the German composer Georg Schumann. I was surprised to discover that this is the fifth volume released by CPO of his music, the others being devoted to orchestral (including the B minor Symphony - review), chamber, lieder and piano works. Schumann was the brother of the organist and composer Camillo Schumann, and he received early music tuition from his father and grandfather. Between 1882-1888 he studied at the Leipzig Conservatory with Carl Reinecke, and it was during this time that he encountered such notables as Liszt, Brahms, Mahler and Bruch. He won early recognition for his B minor Symphony, a student work from 1886, described by one reviewer as "the Sixth Symphony Mendelssohn might have written had he lived". It won first prize in a competition out of fifty-seven entries. Two years later, as he was winding up his studies, he wrote Amor und Psyche, Op. 3 for soloists, choir and orchestra to enthusiastic acclaim. Thereafter, Schumann worked as a choral conductor, and acted as director of the Sing Akademie in Berlin for half a century from 1900. He was also an accomplished pianist, and travelled extensively with his piano trio giving concerts.
The F minor Symphony is actually Schumann’s third venture into the genre. The B minor “Prize-winning Symphony”, mentioned above, was preceded by an early A major effort (1885), which remains in manuscript. Schumann honed his skills with several smaller orchestral scores before embarking on his Op. 42 – he was almost forty years old. This Symphony is his most ambitious and monumental score. It opens in grandiose fashion with a noble theme. A lyrical second subject reveals Schumann as the inspired melodist. The movement sounds very Brahmsian to me. However, it’s the slow movement which immediately won me over. Low bass pizzicatos and brass chords herald in one of the most beautiful melodies I think I’ve ever heard; it could have been lifted straight from the slow movement of a Bruckner symphony. A more traditional scherzo follows, with fugal elements served up in a restless chromatic landscape. Once again, the composer’s lyrical generosity is revealed in a beguiling theme which emerges midway. It’s short-lived, however, before the impetuous mood returns as a prelude to the finale, which follows without a break. Here the first movement opening theme is transformed into a triumphant march.
Schumann viewed his overtures as stand-alone pieces, not as preludes to larger works. The two overtures are cast, very much, in the symphonic poem mould. The melodic generosity of the Overture to a drama, especially the exquisite cantabile theme, is a positive asset, and should win it many friends. That's not the whole story, however. The hero of the piece wrestles with despair, resurgence and fulfilment, with each emotional state graphically portrayed. The more upbeat Overture 'Joy of life' is positively life-affirming. With its echoes of Richard Strauss, it embodies some richly colourful orchestration.
The recordings were made in 2016 in celebration of the composers 150th birthday anniversary. James Feddeck, an inspirational conductor, injects copious energy and enthusiasm into the performances, and clearly loves the music. The recorded sound is first rate, allowing all the orchestral detail to emerge convincingly. These are wonderful scores and I'm thrilled to have made their acquaintance, and more than happy to spread the news.