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Robert Schumann: Bicentenary Edition

Schumann / Osr / Ansermet
Release Date: 09/14/2010 
Label:  Cascavelle   Catalog #: 3146   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Robert Schumann
Performer:  Wilhelm KempffPierre FournierAldo CiccoliniRudolf Jansen,   ... 
Conductor:  Armin JordanErnest AnsermetFerenc Fricsay
Number of Discs: 7 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 6 Hours 48 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



SCHUMANN Symphonies Nos. 1-4. 1 Piano Concerto. 2 Cello Concerto 3. Das Paradies und die Peri. 4 14 Lieder 5. Frauenliebe und -Leben 5. Faschingsschwank aus Wien 6. Waldszenen. 6 Piano Sonata No. Read more 1 6 1,4 Armin Jordan, 2 Ernest Ansermet, cond; 2 Wilhelm Kempff (pn); 3 Ferenc Fricsay, cond; 3 Pierre Fournier (vc); 4,5 Edith Wiens, 4 Sylvia Herman (sop); 4 Anne Gjevang (alt); 4 Robert Gambill, 4 Christophe Prégardien (ten); 4 Hans-Peter Scheidegger (bs); 5 Rudolf Jansen, 6 Aldo Ciccolini (pn); 4 Romand CCh; 4 Lausanne Pro Arte Ch; 1-4 Suisse Romande O CASCAVELLE VEL 3146 (7 CDs: 484:53)


With a group of reissues licensed from Erato and one CD of live performances, Cascavelle makes a contribution to the Schumann bicentenary that, while relatively modest in size compared to the multidisc sets issued by DG, EMI, and Hyperion, is nonetheless most welcome for restoring to the catalog several excellent performances.


First off, the symphonies, a discussion of which will consume the lion’s share of this review. When it comes to these works, I am a most difficult man to please; to my mind there are more unsatisfying sets of them than for the symphonies of any other major composer. They are exceptionally difficult to get right, between Schumann’s well-known (if exaggerated) deficiencies as an orchestrator and his idiosyncratic approach to symphonic forms. I have generally thought that a fundamental defect of most interpretations is that they treat these works as heavyweight bridges between Beethoven and Brahms. I think they should be conceived as lighter, more graceful works, soulmates to the symphonies of Mendelssohn, and played accordingly—an approach that also would lighten their sometimes thick orchestral textures.


In a quest for a discographic Holy Grail here I have listened to virtually every recorded cycle, only to face repeated disappointments. Sawallisch with the Staatskapelle Dresden on EMI, perhaps the set most often cited by critics, I find to be the work of a conscientious but dull Kapellmeister ; Masur is not much better. Kubelík, Karajan, Barenboim, and many others are too turgid; Szell and Paray too rigid; Bernstein and Sinopoli (in Dresden) too willful; Gardiner and Goodman too shallow and relentlessly driven; Levine, Muti, and Solti pummel the works into submission rather than allowing them to unfold. As most of these performances have been reviewed in Fanfare , readers may consult the online Archive to consider views often at sharp variance from my own and form their own judgments.


For some time now I have made do with two contrasting cycles that I consider good but not great. One is Christoph Eschenbach’s second set, with the NDR Symphony on RCA, which is much superior to his first set on Virgin with the Bamberg Symphony (see the review by Marc Mandel in 25:3). Eschenbach’s are solid mainstream readings, lacking only the last degree of excitement and inspiration needed to lift them to a higher plane. The other is David Zinman’s second traversal, on Arte Nova with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra (reviewed by Michael Ullman in 29:1), which offers a radical rethinking of his first cycle on Telarc with the Baltimore Symphony. Zinman provides a taut, lean, revisionist view, similar to his Beethoven cycle but vastly superior, that avoids the pitfalls of Gardiner and Goodman but is a bit lacking in flexibility and warmth. Favorite performances of individual symphonies include Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony on RCA for the First, Giuseppe Sinopoli and the Vienna Philharmonic on DG for the Second, Carl Schuricht and the Paris Conservatory Orchestra on Decca for the Third, and Bruno Walter’s historic 1938 recording with the London Symphony for the Fourth (there is also a superb 1945 broadcast performance in muddy sound of the First with Walter and the New York Philharmonic).


Given my previous history of manifold disappointments, I did not approach this set with high hopes. I am overjoyed to report that my expectations were completely confounded, even though the performances belong to a traditional large-scale interpretive mode that I hitherto have found totally unappealing. What here has made a convert of me? How do these performances differ from those I have previously encountered and found unsatisfactory?


In brief, Jordan avoids many common pitfalls. Though the performances are weighty, there is also a welcome Gallic lightness of texture. They have breadth and breathe, but are not long-winded. There is a rippling fluidity throughout, in which one phrase is handed off to another like a baton between perfectly coordinated relay runners. Rhythms are pointed but never exaggerated; a legato line is sustained and phrases are never clipped, and yet nothing ever turns slack. Most impressively, despite a reverberant recorded acoustic that would normally be a deathknell in this repertoire, the textures never turn muddy. Strings are suave, the woodwinds glow, and the brass are rich and sweet but never blaring. All are beautifully balanced; every instrumental line can be made out clearly, yet they also all blend seamlessly without any spotlighting. Frequent or exaggerated accelerandi and ritardandi are avoided; phrasing is flexible, not rigid or straightlaced. Moments that are notoriously tricky to get just right, such as the opening fanfares of the “Spring” Symphony, the transition from the Sostenuto assai to the Allegro ma non troppo in the opening of the Second Symphony, and the transition between the third and fourth movements of the Fourth Symphony, are executed with utter naturalness.


Equally impressive is the interpretive spirit. I have heard Schumann made invigorating, exuberant, passionate, and melancholy, but I do not recall ever hearing it made so ravishingly lyrical and beautiful. There are no sharp edges; the corners are rounded, but it is never blunt or flaccid. There is a palpable sense of buoyancy and affectionate warmth throughout; everything sings . I have often lamented that Bruno Walter did not live to record his projected Schumann cycle in 1962, which surely would have set a benchmark similar to his Brahms symphonies. Upon listening to these performances for about the third time, trying to figure out their attraction for me, I suddenly realized their remarkably Walterian character, including a fine equipoise between what Walter termed the Dionysian and Apollonian elements of music, corresponding in Schumann to his psychic alter egos Eusebius and Florestan. A critic once wrote of a Walter performance of the Second that it was “free from all heaviness,” and that describes perfectly what is presented here. The brass in the fourth movement of the Rhenish has a blended, soft-grained sound that brings to mind their Renaissance predecessors and conveys the sweet, grave dignity of a solemn ecclesiastical act.


As readers have doubtless gathered by now, this is my new favorite set of Schumann symphonies; every time I listen to these performances my affection and admiration for them grow. I do have a few minor caveats. I wish that some of the movements were taken at slightly faster tempi—all of the scherzi, the finale of the “Spring” Symphony, the first movement of the “Rhenish”—but even in those Jordan makes a creditable case for his choices. The rendition of the “Rhenish” falls slightly below the extraordinarily high level attained in its three companions; it needs somewhat more thrust and vigor in the opening movement, and some minor agogic faults slightly impede its impetus in the finale. In the Fourth Symphony the lyrical rather than the dramatic side is stressed; some listeners may find the third and fourth movements a bit low-key as a result, though Jordan makes them work in the end. For those to whom the matter is a concern, most exposition repeats are omitted.


Likewise excellent is the performance of the secular oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri . In reviewing the excellent John Eliot Gardiner performance on DG in Fanfare 23: 2, Marc Mandel wrote, “Among those who have gotten to know it, the 90-minute work tends to inspire affection rather than unrestrained enthusiasm.” That certainly does not hold true for me; I fell completely in love with the music the very first time I heard it, despite that acquaintance being made through the pedestrian Berlin Classics recording under Wolf Dieter Hauschild. Since Steven E. Ritter recently gave a positive review to the separate Cascavelle issue of this recording in 34: 3, I can afford to be more brief here. Once again, Jordan shows himself to be a Schumann exponent of the first rank, with all the same virtues I have just elaborated. All the soloists have excellent diction and voices ideally suited to their roles. Soprano Edith Wiens is a delicate and impassioned Peri; Anne Gjevang employs a plangent contralto as the Angel to potent effect; tenor Robert Gambill is an ardent and sweet-voiced narrator; the lighter-voiced tenor of Christophe Prégardien and the bass of Hans-Peter Scheidegger fill their brief solo parts well. The orchestra and chorus make first-rate contributions. Despite its infrequent performance history, this work has been blessed with a recent spate of excellent recordings. Critical pride of place seems to be held by the RCA recording under Nikolaus Harnoncourt (see Ritter’s review of it in 32:1 and his 2008 Want List); I have not heard it but on paper the cast looks most enticing. I have the Gardiner performance and think quite highly of it. The performance led by Giuseppe Sinopoli, also strongly cast but not heard by me, has just been given a budget reissue on Brilliant Classics. The recordings conducted by Henryk Czyz (EMI) and Gerd Albrecht (Supraphon), also highly regarded by many, are unfortunately both out of print. If you already have one of these other performances, there is not a pressing urgency to acquire this one; but if not, then getting this lovely rendition along with the exceptionally fine cycle of symphonies makes acquisition of this collection an easy decision.


The vocal riches also extend to the CD of Lieder sung exquisitely by Edith Wiens. These are some of the most lovely and affecting renditions of Schumann songs I have ever heard; the voice, absolutely secure technically, shimmers with purity and delicacy, and there is intense penetration into the meaning of the texts. The Frauenliebe und -leben has enjoyed many stellar recordings, beginning with the monaural classics of Lotte Lehmann and Kathleen Ferrier accompanied by Bruno Walter, but Wiens stands comparison with any of them.


Regrettably, the two remaining discs in this set do not match the Olympian standards of their companions. The two concertos, both live performances with the Suisse Romande Orchestra, do not fare well. Wilhelm Kempff is a pianist I have never liked; in the few recordings of his I have encountered (which promptly discouraged further exploration) he produces a hard, brittle tone and employs a percussive attack with little use of the sustaining pedal. Much of what he does here borders on the downright ugly, and a few finger slips are evident. He also is not helped by a dry, harsh acoustic and substandard orchestral playing, including an oboist who sounds like he has indigestion after being weaned on sour pickles. Cellist Pierre Fournier fares somewhat better, but is not in peak form and is afflicted with equally unflattering recorded sound. Both soloists are much better served elsewhere. Kempff recorded the concerto three times, with Josef Krips for Decca, Anatole Fistoulari for DG, and Rafael Kubelík for DG again. Fournier recorded the Cello Concerto with Malcolm Sargent for EMI, and there are live performances from 1957 with Hans Rosbaud (Tahra), 1967 with Paul Kletzki (Melodram), and 1969 with Jean Martinon (an EMI DVD). As for the conductors, Ernest Ansermet recorded the Piano Concerto with Fanny Davis back in 1928, and there are later live performances from 1950 and 1956 with Dinu Lipatti and Clara Haskil, the latter two performances being far superior to this one; that narrows the audience for this CD down to die-hard collectors of anything by Ferenc Fricsay.


The remaining CD offers piano pieces played by Aldo Ciccolini. The famed Italian pianist has technique to burn, but for my taste his rendering of the op. 26 Faschingsschwank and op. 14 Sonata are too aggressive and forceful—chiseled, percussive, and rhythmically clipped rather than pearling, rounded, and melodically flowing. He shortchanges the introverted dreaminess that in a successful performance must alternate with the more extroverted and exuberant passages, and seldom lets the dynamic level go below mezzo forte . It does not help that he is rather closely miked, which makes it aurally fatiguing to listen to him for any length of time. By contrast, he brings considerably more delicacy to the much less frequently performed but delightful op. 82; there his major fault is being too straightforward. The tempi are too quick and the performances lack a necessary subtly plastic rubato, as Ciccolini simply pushes his way through like an anxious pedestrian slightly late for an appointment. The “Jagdlied” is the one piece he performs well.


Production values for the packaging could and should have been better. No texts for the Lieder or Paradies are included; there is a booklet with a lengthy essay on Schumann’s life and career. The set is marred by several typos, including the misspelling of Edith Wiens as “Edith Weins” on every single occurrence; apparently someone thinks the Canadian artist is a German tippler. The Jordan-led performances of the symphonies and Paradies are available separately from Cascavelle as budget releases, and the Ciccolini CD at full price. One wishes and hopes that the Wiens CD will be issued separately as well. Fortunately, this set is also a budget-priced issue, so that acquiring it does not present a major financial investment. And, as I think I’ve made clear, this set (or else the separate Jordan issues) is well worth acquiring by all lovers of Schumann’s music; highly recommended.


FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony no 1 in B flat major, Op. 38 "Spring" by Robert Schumann
Conductor:  Armin Jordan
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1841; Germany 
Venue:  Victoria Hall, Genève 
Length: 11 Minutes 47 Secs. 
2.
Symphony no 2 in C major, Op. 61 by Robert Schumann
Conductor:  Armin Jordan
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845-1846; Germany 
Venue:  Victoria Hall, Genève 
Length: 10 Minutes 42 Secs. 
3.
Symphony no 3 in E flat major, Op. 97 "Rhenish" by Robert Schumann
Conductor:  Armin Jordan
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1850; Germany 
Venue:  Victoria Hall, Genève 
Length: 9 Minutes 36 Secs. 
4.
Symphony no 4 in D minor, Op. 120 by Robert Schumann
Conductor:  Armin Jordan
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; Germany 
Venue:  Victoria Hall, Genève 
Length: 11 Minutes 19 Secs. 
5.
Concerto for Piano in A minor, Op. 54 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Wilhelm Kempff (Piano)
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1841-1845; Germany 
Date of Recording: 02/18/1959 
Length: 14 Minutes 38 Secs. 
6.
Concerto for Cello in A minor, Op. 129 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Pierre Fournier (Cello)
Conductor:  Ferenc Fricsay
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1850; Germany 
Date of Recording: 02/06/1957 
Venue:  Victoria Hall, Genève 
Length: 11 Minutes 4 Secs. 
7.
Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Aldo Ciccolini (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839-1840; Germany 
Date of Recording: 03/2002 
Length: 8 Minutes 43 Secs. 
8.
Waldszenen, Op. 82 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Aldo Ciccolini (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1848-1849; Germany 
Date of Recording: 03/2002 
Length: 2 Minutes 2 Secs. 
9.
Sonata for Piano no 3 in F minor, Op. 14 "Concert sans orchestre" by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Aldo Ciccolini (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1835-1836; Germany 
Date of Recording: 03/2002 
Length: 7 Minutes 53 Secs. 
10.
Myrthen, Op. 25: no 1, Widmung by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Rudolf Jansen (Piano), Edith Weins ()
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 2 Minutes 28 Secs. 
11.
Lieder Album für die Jugend, Op. 79: no 26, Schneeglöckchen by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Rudolf Jansen (Piano), Edith Weins ()
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1849; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 1 Minutes 39 Secs. 
12.
Lieder und Gesänge ii, Op. 51: no 2, Volksliedchen by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Rudolf Jansen (Piano), Edith Weins ()
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 1 Minutes 27 Secs. 
13.
Lieder und Gesänge i, Op. 27: no 4, Jasminenstrauch by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Rudolf Jansen (Piano), Edith Weins ()
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 1 Minutes 7 Secs. 
14.
Myrthen, Op. 25: no 12, Lass mich ihn am Busen by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Edith Weins (), Rudolf Jansen (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 1 Minutes 28 Secs. 
15.
Gedichte (12) aus "Liebesfrühling", Op. 37: no 3, O ihr Herren by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Rudolf Jansen (Piano), Edith Weins ()
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 0 Minutes 58 Secs. 
16.
Myrthen, Op. 25: no 25, Aus den östlichen Rosen by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Edith Weins (), Rudolf Jansen (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 2 Minutes 10 Secs. 
17.
Gedichte (12) aus "Liebesfrühling", Op. 37: no 1, Der Himmel hat ein Träne geweint by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Edith Weins (), Rudolf Jansen (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 2 Minutes 38 Secs. 
18.
Minnespiel, Op. 101: no 4, Mein schöner Stern! by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Rudolf Jansen (Piano), Edith Weins ()
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1849; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 2 Minutes 51 Secs. 
19.
Myrthen, Op. 25: no 26, Zum Schluss by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Edith Weins (), Rudolf Jansen (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 2 Minutes 12 Secs. 
20.
Myrthen, Op. 25: no 15, Aus den hebräischen Gesängen by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Rudolf Jansen (Piano), Edith Weins ()
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 4 Minutes 43 Secs. 
21.
Gesänge (3), Op. 95: no 2, An den Mond by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Edith Weins (), Rudolf Jansen (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 2 Minutes 34 Secs. 
22.
Myrthen, Op. 25: no 24, Du bist wie eine Blume by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Rudolf Jansen (Piano), Edith Weins ()
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 1 Minutes 51 Secs. 
23.
Lieder und Gesänge (5), Op. 127: no 2, Dein Angesicht by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Rudolf Jansen (Piano), Edith Weins ()
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 2 Minutes 41 Secs. 
24.
Frauenliebe und Leben, Op. 42 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Edith Weins (), Rudolf Jansen (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1992 
Length: 22 Minutes 20 Secs. 
25.
Das Paradies und die Peri, Op. 50 by Robert Schumann
Conductor:  Armin Jordan
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1843; Germany 
Date of Recording: 10/1988 
Length: 91 Minutes 36 Secs. 

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