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Schubert, Schumann: Symphonies No 4 / Harnoncourt, Berlin Po


Release Date: 03/12/1996 
Label:  Teldec   Catalog #: 94543   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Felix MendelssohnFranz SchubertRobert Schumann
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 17 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

“I think of it as one of the greatest symphonic poems” said Harnoncourt of Die schone Melusine in an interview in these pages (5/92). A bold claim, but here indeed is a bold and beauteous performance. Beauty first, “the beauty of calm waters” as Tovey described the opening: upwardly curling mother-of-pearl Berlin winds and strings, and configurations that can’t have been lost on Smetana (“Vltava”) and Wagner (Das Rheingold). Then boldness: and here the strongly rhythmic second theme (Tovey’s “fairy tale terrors and woes”) is subjected to such a dramatic animato that its definition may strike you as initially blurred (a momentary impression though, and I would say that the Overture as a whole benefits from Harnoncourt’s tempo contrasts). One Read more might speculate that his more usual recent collaborators on disc, the incomparably nimble Chamber Orchestra of Europe, would have articulated a little more precisely – and that the important woodwind lines from 9'30'' might have been a little more prominent.

The Berliners’ tradition and musical collective would appear to have had a profound (and, to my ears, positive) effect on Harnoncourt in the Schubert. Compare the slow movement with his recent Concertgebouw recording: there, the Andante’s relatively detached period manners are here (at a slower tempo, though still an Andante) transformed into a very real beauty and eloquence of phrase and expression. Perhaps, in general, the Berlin woodwinds do not always cut through the texture as did those of the Concertgebouw (or those of the COE for Abbado), but what a wonderful melancholy choir they make. Unusually for Harnoncourt (and for Berlin), the first and second violins are divided across the stage throughout the programme, a balance which can relegate lower strings to the nether regions. Not so here – very present indeed is their seizure of fortissimo entries in the Schubert finale. Equally startling, if you don’t know the Abbado or Harnoncourt’s Amsterdam recording, is the removal of eight bars (from the printed editions) in the first movement’s exposition, and Harnoncourt’s fateful (‘Tragic’?) half-tempo delivery of the finale’s closing unison C chords.

Dramatic delaying tactics – whether tiny hesitations, or huge fermatas – have always been a feature of Harnoncourt’s conducting. Together with his insistent accentuation, sudden contrasts of dynamics, texture and tempo (for example, Scherzo/Trio tempos), you may feel that this Schumann Fourth (the familiar revision; he has already recorded the 1841 original – Teldec, 2/95) sets out to contradict the symphony’s apparent continuity, certainly compared to a performance like Wand’s. I imagine that the delayed final chord of its first movement is intended to set the tempo for the second, but I don’t think it works. But then, this is a performance that can catch fire spectacularly in a way that few others do, especially in the symphony’s closing stages. The Berliners’ playing is magnificent, and the Philharmonie sound is both satisfyingly present and spacious.

-- John Steane, Gramophone [5/1996]
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Works on This Recording

1.
Die schöne Melusine Overture, Op. 32 by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1833; Germany 
Date of Recording: 01/1995 
Venue:  Live  Philharmonic Hall, Berlin 
2.
Symphony no 4 in C minor, D 417 "Tragic" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1816; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/1995 
Venue:  Live  Philharmonic Hall, Berlin 
3.
Symphony no 4 in D minor, Op. 120 by Robert Schumann
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; Germany 
Date of Recording: 01/1995 
Venue:  Live  Philharmonic Hall, Berlin 
Notes: Composition written: Germany (1841).
Composition revised: Germany (1851). 

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