Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies: No. 2; No. 4
Christian Zacharias, cond; Lausanne CO
MDG MGD 940 1745-6 (SACD: 64:51)
This is the first time I have ever heard these symphonies played gracefully by a chamber orchestra. What makes them so beautiful is that Christian Zacharias does not employ his orchestra’s limitation of size as an excuse for delivering spiky phrasing and rude noises. (Roger Norrington! Beware of Dog!) What I encounter instead in these performances is the delicacy of Schumann’s piano suites and the fine
ear of a pianist who knows this music must dance. In fairness, the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra is not that small—perhaps 50-strong here—but usually the temptation would be to overcompensate with smaller-dog tensile energy.
Happily we find instead kinder, gentler versions of big-orchestra Schumann. This approach works best in the inner movements of both symphonies, but also especially well in the danceable opening
of the Fourth. Taken a bit faster than usual, the Adagio of the Second Symphony could actually propel a couple gracefully around the room. In the outer movements we get similar tea-dance spirit, but at the slight expense of something larger and more exciting. This is such smooth, euphonious
Schumann; it is almost Dvo?ák.
Schumann, of course, was obsessed by the sound of disembodied trumpets during the composition of his Second Symphony. And there is more metaphysical fear and Wagnerian mystery to be captured in its introduction than heard here. Christoph Eschenbach evoked this hauntingly in his Bamberg cycle for Virgin in the early ’90s. And Ernest Ansermet, just up the road in Geneva, didn’t do badly with it, either. Small forces have difficulty with the stasis of mood and mystery. In particular, tremoli with a large complement of strings can evoke the infinite nature of things. But in reduced numbers, they demystify and can pester like flies at a picnic.
So I shall not argue that Zacharias has exhausted the possibilities found in these symphonies, just that the beauty of his approach will surprise you, in delicious but unobtrusive surround sound. If there is perhaps more grit, force, and sheer amorous passion to be found in the Second Symphony, well, Clara Schumann would certainly have thought so. As a small symbol in her diaries reveals, she and Schumann had sex virtually every day for 10 years! I always suspected girls loved Schumann!
FANFARE: Steven Kruger
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in C major, Op. 61 by Robert Schumann
Lausanne Chamber Orchestra
Written: 1845-1846; Germany
Venue: Métropole Lausanne
Length: 26 Minutes 31 Secs.
Symphony no 4 in D minor, Op. 120 by Robert Schumann
Written: 1851; Germany
Venue: Métropole Lausanne
Length: 9 Minutes 37 Secs.
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