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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphony No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 38 ‘Spring’ (1841) [32:27]
Symphony No. 4 in D minor (1841/1851) [27:47]
Cello Concerto in A minor Op. 129 (1850) [25:49]
Violin Concerto in D minor (1853) [29:16]
Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 54 (1841 rev. 1845) [31:22]
Overture to Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, Op.128 [7:53]
Pierre Fournier (cello): Henryk Szeryng (violin): Annie Fischer (piano)
Südwestfunk-Orchester Baden-Baden/Hans Rosbaud
rec. 1957-61, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden
SWR CLASSIC SWR19085CD [3CDs: 155:45]

SWR makes no claim for first release status for any of these performances – indeed the concerto ones are quite well-known examples of Rosbaud’s tenure of the orchestra in Baden-Baden – but they handily join the roster of composer-oriented sets on this label representing the art of the great conductor.

Both the symphonies were recorded after Rosbaud’s devastating illness. In the case of the Brahms works contained in an earlier volume, where symphonic recordings exist pre and post-illness it’s very clear that Rosbaud took a graphically more measured view in the last year or two of his life than he had when free from illness. Here we lack a comparable view, being restricted to ‘late’ Rosbaud. Thus, it’s difficult on the evidence of these two performances, to know if they possess a greater gravity than earlier traversals but I suspect that his Schumann was not, as was his Brahms, susceptible to quite the same degree of mutability. There is a directness throughout that seems to argue for a continuity of vision, especially in the Spring where the opening’s power, the second movement’s lyricism and the finale’s celebratory intensity sound utterly convincing. For Rosbaud structural imperatives and expressive weight are perfectly conjoined in No.4, where nothing is subject to exaggeration. Tempos remain forward-looking. He clearly also wanted to record the Overture to Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, though it’s not one of the composer’s imperishable masterpieces.

Of the three concertos, Fournier is his noble, elegant self, a near-miraculous compound of tonal beauty and phrasal refinement. The performance has been released on Tahra but as ever SWR use studio tapes. This Fournier-Rosbaud reading is not dissimilar to the famous EMI Philharmonia/Sargent but diverges somewhat - but only somewhat – from the cellist’s earlier 1949 New York/Stokowski reading. Szeryng made a famous recording of the Violin Concerto with the LSO and Doráti but this 1957 studio reading is in no way inferior. In fact, in some ways it generates a tension that even surpasses that fine disc in both the vitality of the outer movements and the pathos of the central one. For the Piano Concerto he is joined by Annie Fischer, the year before she embarked on her EMI LP recording in London with Klemperer – one that needed retakes until 1962. Perhaps predictably Rosbaud is slightly tighter in conception than Klemperer and there are moments when he and Fischer take slightly different tempi, but the performance doesn’t fracture; the tension is creative.

With those excellent original tapes and useful notes this 3-CD set – the third disc is necessarily only 32 minutes long, containing as it does just the Piano Concerto – continues the reclamation and consolidation work of these SWR tapes.

Jonathan Woolf

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