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CD Review

Robert Schumann

Complete Symphonies

  • Symphony #1 "Spring" in B Flat Major, Op. 38 (1841)
  • Symphony #2 in C Major, Op. 61 (1841)
  • Symphony #3 "Rhenish" in E Flat Major, Op. 97 (1850)
  • Symphony #4 in D minor, Op. 120 (1853)
  • Overture "Manfred" in E Flat minor, Op. 115 (1849)
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Paul Paray
Mercury Living Presence 462955-2 ADD partly monaural 2CDs 65:13 + 67:12
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This set is now available through ArkivMusic, which is a treat for fans of the composer. Paul Paray did some wonderful things in Detroit, not all of it French music. Paray must have liked Schumann a great deal; there is also recorded evidence of him in this music during one of his visits to Israel. In any case, this is his only complete symphony cycle that he recorded on disc (like his colleague Charles Munch, those projects seemed not to interest him).

Schumann responds very well to the bygone French tradition, arguably much better than he does to his native German one. Light textures, laser-like clarity, and great wind playing will go a long way in this music. Here, Paray gets his Detroit forces to sound very French indeed. The "Rhenish" symphony sounds terrific here, and stands as one of the lightest and most elegant readings on disc. The first two symphonies are swift but never rushed, with the conductor making every orchestral detail count. In the Symphony #4, the mono sound is not a problem. reviewers complained of a high-pitched whine in the original CD issue, but this seems to have been corrected. As for the interpretation, it's a refreshingly urgent and very exciting one. The Overture shares these same positive qualities.

Even as a Detroit native, I can't recommend this as a first choice. But as a supplement to the great cycles it has no peer. While Zinman, Bernstein, Muti, and others take the cake, this remains a real highpoint in the Detroit Symphony discography. I strongly suggest you pick this up, if only to hear Schumann in a whole new way.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman