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CD Review

Robert Schumann

Symphonies #3 & 4

  • Symphony #3 "Rhenish" Op. 97
  • Symphony #4 Op. 120 (1841 version)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Teldec 4509-90867-2 DDD 56:35
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It is not that often that I feel inspired enough by a new recordings to review it after only two or three listens, but this disc is one such. Subsequent listenings have altered my opinion not one whit.

These are live recordings – as are most of Harnoncourt's Chamber Orchestra of Europe recordings – but the real excitement is caused by the original version of Schumann's D minor symphony, hitherto almost invariably heard in its 1851 revision. Indeed, had it not been for Schumann's decision to revise this symphony a decade after he first composed it, it would today be known as Schumann's 2nd.

This is not the very first recording of the first version – there is certainly at least one other – but it is the first to come my way. Brahms apparently preferred the original, as does Harnoncourt – and, by golly, so may I if this keeps up.

If you are familiar with the score, then much of this will come as a shock: more transparent orchestration (so much for all those who claimed that Schumann's orchestration was simply incompetent!) and some very surprising differences in treatment of thematic material, transitions etc. For example, the symphony begins as one expects, but the accelerando into the main allegro di molto is quite different, and this is just the first of many, many such differences.

Without a score, it is difficult to tell whether Harnoncourt's changes in tempo relationships are 'authentic' or not, but this seems a very fine performance indeed. Time will tell.

And did I mention that the Rhenish also receives a terrific performance?

Some buyers may feel that 56:35 is rather short measure today for a full-priced disc. I'd not disagree, but sometimes quality costs. My allegiance to the Furtwängler's classic 1953 recording of the 4th- one of the century's few (near-) definitive recordings and now available once more on DG's Originals – remains unshaken; but all who care about this symphony simply must hear this recording.

Copyright © 1996, Deryk Barker