SCHUMANN Symphonies: No. 1, “Spring”;1 No. 2;2 No. 3, “Rhenish”;1 No. 43 • Leonard Bernstein, cond; Vienna PO • DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 001227209 (DVD: 158:00) Live: Vienna 10/1984;1 11/1985;Read more class="SUPER12">2 2/19843
There are three composers that Leonard Bernstein felt an almost transcendental oneness with: Beethoven, Mahler, and Schumann; in many ways his link with the last is more profound than either of the other two. It was perhaps a pleasant coincidence that his debut concert with the New York Philharmonic in 1943 opened with Schumann’s impassioned Manfred Overture, but his fascination and love of the composer went back even further. While still a student at Harvard, he experienced a revelatory concert where his early mentor, Dimitri Mitropoulos, electrified the audience and the young Lenny with a performance of Schumann’s greatest and most tightly knit symphony, the Second. That night at the Boston Symphony had a profound effect on the young genius, the slow movement especially searing itself into his musical psyche. He subsequently featured the Second many times in concert, even recording it in 1953 for America Decca with the New York Stadium Symphony Orchestra (summer name of the NY Phil), now available on a DG Original Masters release.
In 1960, he ventured into Columbia’s studios to set them down complete in what would be a landmark release, still a touchstone for many collectors today, myself included. Bernstein shunned the idea that Schumann’s orchestration needed any “help,” and recorded them as written. Finally, in 1984, he was back at it again, this time with the Vienna Philharmonic (over a two-year period), recording them live and filming them also (his later contracts with DG stated that every concert was to be recorded in audio and video). I have been waiting for this release for a long while, for I believe it to be the single greatest set of Schumann symphonies ever recorded, and while the audio discs have been available, the PCM and DTS 5.1 options, along with the added adventure of watching the concert (though putting it on DVD and just listening is also very rewarding) make this an experience that any lover of Schumann should definitely have in his or her collection. More than any other composer I can recall having seen Bernstein conduct on video, Schumann seems to be under his skin. It is easy to tell—he is so comfortable with the music and so knowledgeable about each and every note and phrase that every swing of the baton looks imbued with musical love and significance, and one finds joy in these performances that eludes other conductors.
From the opening bars of the “Spring” Symphony we know we are in for a treat; his confident guidance through the trials and tribulations of Schumann’s many tricky tempo and meter changes (a real minefield for young conductors) as if second nature. Bernstein has an innate sense of feel and flow in these works that justifies his every tempo change, making for a sense of natural and indeed definitive guidance as to how the relationship of time and meter works in each and every movement. The Second has quite simply never been bettered—it is as if Schumann wrote it for Bernstein to conduct, and dry eyes are plainly not an option after the slow movement stops. The grandeur of the “Rhenish” is magnificent, and Bernstein’s vision of the Cologne Cathedral in the forth movement is simply glorious—austere, powerful, and always bringing out those ever-important trombone parts. Perhaps the biggest surprise is his way with the “problematical” Fourth Symphony; he uses the final version, but has such a way with the instrumental balances, a judicious and subversive ability to detect where the primary emotional component of any particular chord or melodic line lies, and then incorporating it into the phrase in a manner that cements the passage as no other conductor seems to manage. The sparse and few melodic motives that Schumann provides in this work all of a sudden blossom into a coherent whole with rousing results. Top of the line for sure, and a first choice in any medium.
Needless to say, you need to hear this set, and seeing it is a bonus. Humphrey Burton, who directed many of Lenny’s films, proves a skilled and able advocate here as well, a pioneer in filmed concert presentations. This goes to the top of this year’s Want List.
Symphony no 4 in D minor, Op. 120by Robert Schumann Conductor:
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1851; Germany
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Top-notch SchumannApril 7, 2012By Wayne H. (McAlester, OK)See All My Reviews"Leonard Bernstein's long-time affinity for Schumann and his recordings of the Schumannn symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic have been highly praised by professional critics. I have to agree. For me, the acid test is in the Second Symphony, in the concluding measures of the second movement Scherzo and then through the third movement Adagio. Bernstein does both masterfully, with full commitment to Schumann's structure and communicating the emotional message as well. Just listening to the music is a treat. Watching Bernstein as he savors it and shares his inspiration with the orchestra is frosting on a delicious cake. The camera work and recording are first-rate."Report Abuse