Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is the first recording of Mahler's rescoring of Schumann's Second and Fourth Symphonies that shows what an improvement these versions really are over the originals. The problem with previous releases is that they weren't good Schumann, and few things on earth are duller than dull interpretations of Schumann symphonies. So let's make one thing clear: these are excellent performances by any standard, first and foremost. The fact that you can now actually hear Mahler's additions--the E-flat clarinets, harp, cowbells, and of course the tam-tam in the Adagio espressivo of the Second Symphony--is just a bonus.
Okay, just kidding. In reality, the most remarkable thing about Mahler's
scoring is how respectful it is of Schumann's original timbral canvas. All he has done is clean the painting, not so much by actual reorchestration as by a complete recalibration of dynamics and internal balances. This is very evident in the finale of the Second Symphony, the main theme of the Fourth's first movement, and the second subject of the same work's finale. The resulting texture is at once more sonorous, but also lighter, an effect obtained by carefully amended timpani parts to firm up the rhythm, and by more readily audible woodwinds. Very little of this was noticeable on previous recordings, particularly BIS's dreary set with the Bergen Philharmonic conduced by Aldo Ceccato.
Happily, Chailly and the Gewandhaus are in a different league. This conductor recorded some standard versions of Schumann symphonies a while back, also for Decca, and they weren't so interesting, but the new orchestrations evidently have given his interpretations new energy. The Second Symphony has real depth of feeling in the Adagio, wonderful string articulation in its scherzo, and plenty of bravura in the finale. The Fourth also is unusually exciting, its lively tempos matching the fresh sounds coming from the orchestra. The result is Schumann freed from what in retrospect sounds like a timbral prison.
Mind you, I have no problem with Schumann's original orchestrations in the sense that even those who claim to use them often alter them drastically (Szell is a prime example) to achieve the clarity and color that the composer obviously had in mind. Those that do not (Haitink), wind up with musical sludge. Mahler may go a bit farther in this respect than most, but in my opinion he never steps over the line. The Genoveva Overture is an attractive bonus, and perhaps inadvertently makes the symphonies' newfound vividness all the more striking. Excellent, natural sonics also help to give the music additional luster. I hope the rest of this cycle appears without delay. It's not just interesting: it's terrific Schumann.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in C major, Op. 61 by Robert Schumann
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Written: 1845-1846; Germany
Symphony no 4 in D minor, Op. 120 by Robert Schumann
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Written: 1851; Germany
Notes: Composition written: Germany (1841).
Composition revised: Germany (1851).
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