Notes and Editorial Reviews
There are simply dozens of Schumann cycles around; I only keep my top ten or fifteen on hand. The rest sit in the “overflow” stock my parent’s barn, where I can access them on weekends. Try as we might to keep track of them all, it’s just impossible, and I have to confess that I quite forgotten that this cycle even existed. It was available for a time as a Decca Double, which I see is now selling new for $939 on Amazon–I don’t suggest that you buy it. This is the Japanese reissue, which I purchased with curiosity only to discover that I owned the Decca Double. There it was, sitting in the barn, neatly filed, just where I had put it.
These performances were issued in 1988/89, and I
can’t recall having reviewed them then. Looking back to find some mention of them, I see that Gramophone covered at least one disc, comparing Dohnányi unfavorably to the new Levine/Berlin cycle, then also in progress. Perhaps that explains at least partially why this set was more or less ignored on initial release. That, and the fact that Szell’s benchmark recordings eventually were reissued, alongside a wave of “original instrument” versions (most of which sucked)–all of these factors combined to offer this cycle a one-way ticket to discographic oblivion.
It has been our loss. This is a magnificent series of performances. Dohnányi is an excellent conductor in music of the early romantic era–witness his superb Mendelssohn symphonies, for example. Schumann plays to his strengths in that the music demands clarity of texture and a certain lightness of rhythm that these forces seem particularly well disposed to provide. Check out the opening of the “Spring” Symphony: a stately introduction leading to the perfectly paced allegro, as fresh and vibrant the symphony’s nickname suggests. Or consider the scherzo of the Second Symphony, effortlessly virtuosic and nimble.
The clogged orchestration that dogs the canonic counterstatement of the first movement’s main theme in the “Rhenish” Symphony calls for as many solutions as there are recordings of it. Some conductors stick with the original orchestration and either ignore the counterpoint, or fiddle with the dynamics to bring it out. Others rescore the passage, usually by doubling the woodwinds with the horns. Dohnányi’s solution may be the best of all: he let’s the horns play the “head motive” at each entrance then cuts them out so that the woodwinds can be heard. It works wonderfully, both more colorful than the original, but also true to its timbral character, and it’s typical of this lively and sensitive performance generally.
Dohnányi’s vision of the Fourth Symphony is magnificant: as sharp and exciting as any version on disc. The precision with which he and his players handle the transition to the finale is breathtaking, and when that movement arrives it takes off like a shot. All of these performances have been captured in excellent sound: clean, natural, and as well balanced as the interpretations themselves. Copies of the Decca Double release are not hard to find (that Amazon offer notwithstanding), and the set is still available at time of writing at a twofer price on Arkivmusic.com. I know, you probably already own multiple Schumann cycles, but hey, you can always use another, right?
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in C major, Op. 61 by Robert Schumann
Christoph von Dohnányi
Written: 1845-1846; Germany
Symphony no 4 in D minor, Op. 120 by Robert Schumann
Christoph von Dohnányi
Written: 1851; Germany
Notes: Composition written: Germany (1841).
Composition revised: Germany (1851).
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