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Schumann: Scenes From Goethe's Faust

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Audio CD, February 22, 2011
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Goethe's Faust exerted a powerful influence on Romantic composers, offering Robert Schumann a number of unforgettable scenes drawn mainly from the mystical second part of the epic poem which he incorporated into this immensely moving large-scale cantata. Opening with the first love scene between Gretchen and Faust and concluding with the climactic scene of Faust's redemption, Schumann created a sweeping panorama of dramatic episodes with Mephistopheles' trickery ultimately overcome as legions of celestial beings bear Faust's soul to heaven.

Review

Schumann worked on his Scenes from Faust for some nine years, from 1847 until just before his attempted suicide. It contains some of his finest dramatic music, especially the large continuous scenes in Part 2, and because the orchestra spends most of its time accompanying the singers, the problem of his thick and monochrome late scoring doesn't ruin the enjoyment. Indeed, there are some lovely instrumental touches throughout the work: the eerie flutes and piccolo at the start of Part 2's Midnight scene (shades of Mendelssohn, only spookier); the stabbing, syncopated horn rhythms in Faust's death scene; and the delicate writing for harp in Part 3 at 'Höchste Herrscherin der Welt'. The work has not lacked for champions, including Benjamin Britten and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, but this new performance is as fine as any yet recorded.

Antoni Wit has at his disposal an excellent chorus and a very fine orchestra. He unclogs Schumann's textures by having timpani play with hard sticks and by encouraging the brass to play with a characterful, unblended sonority. Trumpets, horns, and trombones retain their special timbre, especially in pianissimo, while the woodwinds color the string parts that they so often merely double. Wit's tempos flow with unforced naturalness and real excitement where called for. The concluding Chorus Mysticus (Wit chooses Schumann's original version) really takes off at its 'Lebhaft' second half.

Best of all, Wit has an outstanding lineup of soloists. Christiane Libor sings Gretchen (later Una Poenitentium and Not) with a really beautiful, steady tone. Her Church scene, with Andrew Gangestad's suave Mephistopheles, is gripping. Jaakko Kortekangas makes an excellent Faust/Doctor Marianus. Faust's death is deeply moving, and in Part 3 he gets the lines that Mahler later assigned to a tenor, and it works just as well (better in this context, of course). He's a pleasure to listen to.

The Naxos engineers capture the whole production in sonics of great warmth, clarity, and naturalness. It may be that Schumann's Faust will never regain its 19th century popularity, but it contains some wonderful music, and this version will be hard to beat. --ClassicsToday.com, David Hurwitz, February 21, 2011

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Product Details

  • Performer: Warsaw Boys Choir, Warsaw Philharmonic Choir
  • Orchestra: Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Conductor: Antoni Wit
  • Composer: Robert Schumann
  • Audio CD (February 22, 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B004GX91RA
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #144,312 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By stevenrothbard on July 13, 2011
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
While perhaps not a great masterpiece, Schumann's late "Scenes from Goethe's 'Faust'" is certainly an interesting addition to the discography of Schumann's works for the 2010 200th anniversary of Schumann's birth. The Overture is not one of Schumann's most effective works, and I believe it was written last, but don't let that put you off, since the actual "scenes" of Part One, derived from the dialogues of Faust and Gretchen, and other related material, are quite attractive, and show Schumann in his best lyric vein, foreshadowing early Wagner. It is for the scenes of Part Two, however, mostly from the very end of the second part of Goethe's great poem, that Schumann provided some of his best late music, rising to an ecstatic level which mirrors Goethe's words and ideas of universal fulfillment through love and forgiveness. This is certainly a question of taste, but I think Schumann sets these words in a more effective and tasteful way than Mahler does in the finale of his 8th Symphony, which, by contrast, may seem to "gild the lilly."
Reviews of this performance (from "BBC Music Magazine," "Grammophone," etc.) have all been very positive,and even though there are other equally excellent, but more expensive, versions of this work, this new version on Naxos is to be welcomed because it allows everyone to hear a work which may open a new, different view of Schumann's musical achievement. Excellent sound and program notes. Texts and translations are available on the Naxos website, making this release even more affordable for all.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jim D. on October 20, 2011
Format: Audio CD
Something about Goethe's epic Faust calls out to composers: Gounod, Boito, Berlioz, Mahler, Liszt...and Schumann, who began this choral setting only a dozen years after the great dramatic poem was completed, a score which was to occupy him on and off for ten years more. No attempt was made to represent the entire work--instead, it's sort of a "favorite bits" approach and, like Handel's Messiah, it is assumed you know some of the story going in. Also like Messiah, it's hard for a single recording to do justice to the vast concept; still, Antoni Wit and his forces do a more than solid job, and really bring out much of the remarkable variety in the music (I keep playing the chorus of angels and boys in Part Three). Some of the male soloists are challenged by the range of their parts, but baritone Jaakko Kortekangas and soprano Iwona Hossa are very fine. No texts, as usual, though you can easily download them from the label's website, and the booklet gives a synopsis of the original work, including parts that were not set to music.
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This recording is a success as it is consistently well cast and mostly adheres to idiomatic characteristics of what makes a fine Schumann performance. While we all treasure the old Decca recording with Benjamin Britten; and the Sony recording with Abbado, this performance can stand next to them as it has some wonderful performances by the major singers.
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