Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies: Nos. 1—4. Concert Piece for 4 Horns and Orchestra
Fabio Luisi, cond; Vienna SO
ORFEO 717102 (2 CDs: 153:20) Live: Vienna 2006–08
Though not as ancient as the Vienna Philharmonic, the Vienna Symphony has an equally distinguished pedigree featuring superb conductors, beginning with Ferdinand Löwe in 1900, and continuing with (in succession) Wilhelm Furtwängler, Oswald Kabasta, Hans Swarowsky, Herbert von Karajan, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Josef Krips, Carlo Maria Giulini, Gennady Rozhdestvensky,
Georges Prêtre, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Vladimir Fedoseyev, and Fabio Luisi, who will step down in 2013. Of course the orchestra has also enjoyed the attention of many other famous conductors, some who have made notable recordings with the band. Yet they have always remained in the shadow of the more famous and—face it—better Philharmonic. In fact the Vienna Symphony has a rather checkered history execution-wise, and on many recordings its tonal qualities struggle to keep up with other orchestras in all parts of the world. But it cannot be denied that it has made an enormous contribution to the history of classical recordings.
I was not familiar with Fabio Luisi at all, though after hearing this Schumann set I will certainly be on the lookout for him in the future. These concert recordings, done at both the Vienna Musikverein and the Konzerthaus, are really stellar interpretatively and rank among the finest sets I know. I could complain about the orchestra’s sometimes rather raw string sound and the sporadic lack of ensemble unity, but I won’t. Though these pockmarks grabbed my attention from the start—and I am not completely sure that I wasn’t looking for them—the more I heard, the more drawn-in I was to these enthusiastic and highly adept readings that do Schumann proud. Luisi is a fine Schumann conductor, one who is not afraid to go his own way and yet maintains a healthy respect for tradition.
The sound is a little congested and perhaps not as much separated stereophonically as I would like, and even the depth of the sonic spectrum offers a little less than you might find on other recordings. But the readings do grab you, and I was sucked in almost against my will time and time again as Luisi got one thing after another right. The “Spring” is as vivacious as you could ask for, while the often problematical Fourth receives a wonderful performance, steady, sturdy, and possessing a linear forward motion that keeps the excitement high all the way through. If there is a weakness it is found most notably in the Second Symphony, where some of the mystery is missing in the introduction, and the slow movement needs a little more passion in the strings than the Vienna Symphony seems able to give. The Third is very lively, especially in the finale, perfectly paced, yet here too I wanted more heft and grandeur in the first movement. The Concert Piece for Four Horns was considered by the composer as one of his best, a real test for any section that thinks itself competent enough to try it (Schumann was taking advantage of the modern instrument), and these folks definitely are up to the task in a reading of great wit and verve, making up for the ever-so-slight tonal deficiencies that you don’t find in the more superstar recordings. I loved every minute of it.
Could this be an only Schumann symphony set? Why yes, I think it could, though Schumann fanatics would never stand for such a thing, and with so many great recordings out there, from Szell to Bernstein to Beermann to Barenboim to Dausgaard, it is hard to disregard those. But still, Luisi has his place, and the detailed and wonderfully written program notes only add to the fine value of this set. Easily recommended for one and all.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in C major, Op. 61 by Robert Schumann
Vienna Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1845-1846; Germany
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