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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Hot on the heels of Daniel Barenboim's sensational recent Schumann cycle for Warner Classics comes this bargain-priced set that's every bit as fine while being interpretively at the opposite extreme. This means that you can acquire both and basically encompass the range of Schumann interpretation in modern sound and with musical values that match or exceed those of any past sets that you care to name. Zinman's light and lively view of this music was well documented by Telarc in his previous complete set of these works with the Baltimore Symphony. There his interpretations were diminished by a pervasive blandness that was largely the result of restrained dynamics, mellow sonics, and a soft-core,
"traditional" approach to rhythm abetted by overly reticent brass and timpani.
Since that time Zinman has recorded a Beethoven cycle with these same forces reflecting the values of the Historical Performance movement, and he's applied those lessons here to excellent effect. Timpani use hard sticks throughout, the brass cut through the textures, and the strings never cover the winds. Listen, for example, to the well-balanced timpani in the first movement of the Rhenish Symphony, or to the perfectly clear woodwind scales at the end of the Spring Symphony's first-movement exposition (excellent recorded sound throughout certainly helps too). On the whole, Zinman's tempos are uncompromisingly swift but never rushed. The outer movements of the String Symphony explode with vernal freshness; the scherzo of the Second gives Mendelssohn a good run for his money, while the finales of the Rhenish and the Fourth never bog down in a seemingly endless chain of sequences.
Zinman also takes care to relate tempos logically to one another--the introductions of the Second and Fourth Symphonies to their respective first-movement allegros, for example--and through it all the playing of the Tonhalle Orchestra reveals total commitment. The horns do themselves proud throughout the Rhenish, while the strings show exceptional sensitivity and dynamic nuance as well as rhythmic precision. You won't find in these performances the sort of "cosmic" quality that more Romantic approaches bring to such passages as the transition between the Fourth Symphony's scherzo and finale, but this seems a small price to pay given such consistent inspiration all around. And who's to say that more than a few of Schumann's most passionate utterances, such as the Adagio espressivo of the Second and the Feierlich fourth movement of the Rhenish, don't sound even better when played (as here) at a nice, flowing tempo? Not I.
So don't make the mistake of viewing swiftness as metronomic inflexibility and clarity as coldness. Zinman reveals every bit as much care for matters of phrasing and balance as Barenboim gives to tempo and transitions; in any case, this is not a zero-sum game. Zinman's weighting of his interpretations in favor of certain qualities does not mean that others are absent. The wonderful thing about both Barenboim and Zinman is that at this late date, and in these works, we have two such totally different yet equally valid viewpoints, both of which justify yet another look at this oft-recorded repertoire. Excellence at this level serves only to renew our faith both in the vitality of the classics and in the ability of today's interpreters to triumphantly stand toe to toe with the greatest recorded documents of the past. [5/3/2004]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in C major, Op. 61 by Robert Schumann
Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra
Written: 1845-1846; Germany
Symphony no 4 in D minor, Op. 120 by Robert Schumann
Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra
Written: 1851; Germany
Notes: Composition written: Germany (1841).
Composition revised: Germany (1851).
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Excellent, But Rhenish Slightly Lacking September 20, 2014
By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews
"Robert Schumann's 4 symphonies, certainly among the quintessential Romantic Era symphonic compositions, receive a powerful and impressive performance by the outstanding Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra under David Zinman. In my opinion, this 2 disk Arte Nova set absolutely merits a 5 star rating, although I have reservations about one of the symphonies. Disk 1 with Symphonies 1 and 2 are beyond reproach, fully the equal of any other Schumann recording you are likely to find. On Disk 2, Symphony # 4 also receives a glowing, magnificent performance. The problem I have is with Symphony # 3, the Rhenish, which to my way of thinking requires a massive, assertive and very forward horn section to maximize the impact of Schumann's very dramatic work. What I heard in this recording was a more subdued brass presence than I think this masterwork really needs, and thus I felt the overall impact of the work was slightly below that of the other 3. As you can see, I have a disagreement with Arkivmusic's professional critic on this point, but don't let that deter you. Overall, this cycle is really good and well worth your while, especially for a newcomer to Schumann, based on Arte Nova's very modest price. I'll close by saying that had the Rhenish contained that golden, burnished brass power that I had hoped to hear, this cycle would possibly rank at the very top of them all."