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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphony No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 38, ‘Spring’ (1841) [32:50]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 3 in D major, D. 200 (1815) [25:21]
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks / Mariss Jansons
rec. live, 26-30 January 2015 (Schubert); 21-22 March 2018 (Schumann), Herkulessaal, Munich
BR KLASSIK 900176 [58:11]

This latest BR Klassik release from the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Mariss Jansons comprises of a symphony each from Austro-German masters Schubert and Schumann, both pivotal figures of the Romantic Era. As we are reminded in the notes, it was Schumann himself who in 1838 at Vienna unearthed Schubert’s Ninth SymphonyGreat’ which inspired him a few years later to write his own First SymphonySpring’.

Schubert’s Third Symphony and Schumann’s First SymphonySpring’ were written twenty-five years apart and there are almost three years between these Jansons live performances. Both symphonies, particularly the Schumann, have been recorded numerous times over the years and the available choice can be bewildering, so I have provided as a guide several of my leading choices. There have been a number of recordings from period-instrument orchestras too, although I am not especially familiar with those.

Schubert’s early symphonies are decidedly classical in form and style, and not surprisingly greatly influenced by classical masters Haydn and Mozart. His early symphonic scores, including the Third Symphony, although fine works, scarcely suggest the greatness that was to come later. Schubert was just eighteen when in 1815 he composed his Third Symphony whilst working as a primary school teacher. It seems that he completed the bulk of this elegant score mainly in the summer in a matter of weeks. Unquestionably the year 1815 was a most productive year for Schubert, as notably he wrote some one hundred and fifty songs including one of his finest, Der Erlkönig. It was fifty-three years after Schubert’s death before His Third Symphony was given its public première in London in 1881.

Under Jansons, the Bavarian orchestra provide assured and committed performance that brings a near-intoxicating sense of joy. Overall the playing has elegance and is often beautiful; the opening movement Allegro con brio is especially uplifting, with a spring in its step. I especially relished the second movement Allegretto, which is given a feather-light quality under Jansons and infused with the spirit of the dance. The rhythmic Finale: Presto vivace contains a sense of the impulsive, almost swaggering, reminding me of an overture to a Rossini comic opera.

The recording of Schubert’s Third Symphony that I first reach for is the beautifully played 1971 performance from Karl Böhm and the Berliner Philharmoniker recorded at Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin. I have the recording as part of Böhm’s box set of the complete Schubert symphonies on Deutsche Grammophon. In addition, I often play the symphony as part of a box set of the complete Schubert symphonies from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under Nikolaus Harnoncourt. These sympathetic and unfailing musical performances of sheer class were recorded live at Concertgebouw, Amsterdam in 1992 on Warner Classics. I also rate Harnoncourt conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker live in 2003 at Philharmonie, Berlin forming part of a box set of the complete Schubert symphonies on the orchestra’s own label.

Schumann’s First Symphony known as the ‘Spring’ from 1841 is the product of a joyous burst of activity from the recently married, thirty-year-old composer. According to Clara Schumann’s diary the title of ‘SpringSymphony was chosen owing to the impact of verse from Adolf Böttger’s poem ‘Frühlingsgedicht’ (‘Spring Poem’). Schumann discarded his poetic original titles for each movement: ‘The Beginning of Spring’, ‘Evening’, ‘Merry Playmates’ and ‘Spring in Full Bloom’. It was Schumann’s mentor Felix Mendelssohn who conducted the première of the score in 1841 at Gewandhaus Leipzig.

One soon senses the Bavarian players’ keen understanding of the score. Jansons presides over an impressively considered account full of interest and providing an eminently fresh and uplifting performance that glows brightly. Notable is the opening movement Andante un poco maestoso – Allegro molto vivace (‘The Beginning of Spring’) with playing of dance-like exuberance, just brimming with optimism. Exuberantly bold, the performance of the final movement Allegro animato e grazioso (‘Spring in Full Bloom’) contains a keen feeling of grandeur.

Over the years the Berliner Philharmoniker has recorded a number of sets of the complete Schumann symphonies. In the First Symphony there are several recordings that I often play and can recommend. The First is included on two excellent sets on Deutsche Grammophon recorded at the Jesus-Christus-Kirche Berlin. There are the 1963/1964 accounts from conductor Rafael Kubelik and also Herbert von Karajan in 1971. More recently there is the fresh and invigorating performance with Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker, recorded live in 2013 at Philharmonie, Berlin, contained on his complete set on the orchestra’s own label. Rattle breathes new life into these Schumann symphonies and is certainly the one I choose to go to first. Worthy of consideration, too, is the beautifully played live performance on the set from the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas recorded in 2015 at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco on SFS Media. Using the Mahler editions of the symphonies there is Riccardo Chailly conducting the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig from his set of 2006/07 recordings giving a splendid performance at Gewandhaus, Leipzig on Decca. I have also been enjoying the recently released uplifting live account from the Staatskapelle Dresden under Christian Thielemann, part of a complete Schumann set, recorded in 2018 whilst on tour at Suntory Hall, Tokyo.

Jansons recorded both symphonies at separate live concerts in the Herkulessaal, Munich, the renowned rectangular shaped recording venue. Both performances are well recorded, being clear and impressively balanced. There is very little extraneous noise to bother about and applause has been left in at the conclusions. In the CD booklet, each work has a separate essay, and both are informative and helpful. Included, too, is the German text of Adolf Böttger’s poem ‘Frühlingsgedicht’ complete with an English translation.

These live Herkulessaal recordings conducted by Mariss Jansons are probably not my first-choice selections in each work yet are impressively played and recorded, with the Schubert being especially commendable.  

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Michael Wilkinson

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