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CD Review

Robert Schumann

Complete Symphonies

  • Symphony #1 in B Flat Major "Spring", Op. 38 (1841)
  • Symphony #2 in C Major, Op. 61 (1841)
  • Symphony #3 in E Flat Major "Rhenish", Op. 97 (1850)
  • Symphony #4 in D minor, Op. 120 (1853)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Deutsche Grammophon 4792437 2CDs
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This set is – as noted by other writers – being billed as revelatory, which it is and is not. On the one hand, I relish Schumann played with this sense of lightness and lack of Germanic weight. For the most part, I feel this approach allows us to hear more of the composer's intentions and proves Schumann to be less hapless in orchestral music than generally thought. In that sense, these very well-played performances show us a great deal. In terms of a musical experience, you do have to wonder just how revelatory this actually is. David Zinman and others have successfully shown that you can do Schumann-lite with tremendous conviction.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin doesn't mess up, but he doesn't really open our eyes, either. Certainly these live recordings sound fine and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe is always a joy. But there's much more to tackling the composer's oft-maligned orchestrations than simply playing them for speed. On the one hand, the approach recalls Paul Paray's. On the other hand, Paray's cycle – good as it is even with a scrappy Detroit Symphony Orchestra in tow – fails somewhat to capture the full richness of the composer's intentions. Worse yet, the younger conductor does not quite have the late Frenchman's gift for charm or excitement.

The live Paris recordings show Yannick Nézet-Séguin to be a still-maturing symphonic interpreter. Having seen him live, I have no doubt that he can inspire an orchestra to do great things. And there is much to admire, especially in the first two symphonies, well-phrased and conducted. But while this is a step up from his terribly tepid Stravinsky disc from Philadelphia, it ultimately falls well short of being first-rate Schumann. The sonic picture is typical of a modern live set; good without being great. So too is the music, which fans of the conductor will probably want anyways as a memento of the conductor's evolving career.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman

Trumpet