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Robert Schumann Symphonies

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Audio CD, July 28, 2009
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

With this beautifully arranged double-CD set we are releasing a musical highlight and a musicalscientific
rarity within the label NCA
We are presenting for a first time a complete recording of all four symphonies of Robert Schumann in
the 'Urtext' (original text) edition of Breitkopf & Härtel.
Between the years 1993 and 2001 the editors Breitkopf & Härtel in Wiesbaden, Leipzig and Paris
released the Urtext edition. It is kept strictly to the instructions from Schumann and to the habits of
the 19th Century, especially referring to dynamic, tempo and cast. With that, this edition is breaking
with a tradition which handled the indications from Schumann in a very careless and thoughtless
Thus a complete recording was created very close to the original sound of the 19th Century. However,
maybe this is the first time we may listen to the symphonies the way they sounded originally.
The symphonies are interpreted by the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by
Douglas Bostock.
An voluminous booklet in German and English contains many details about the origin of the
No friend of classical music may ignore this rarity!


When this release of Kletzki's complete Schumann symphonies came out in 1957, High Fidelity magazine published a review by Harold C. Schoenberg, who said: "No better performance is available on LP. This series of Schumann symphonies has a natural, silky sound with a real orchestral balance." Schoenberg was probably right. This is a masterly set led by a masterly conductor who too often gets short shrift in regards to his place in the conducting pantheon. The Polish-born Kletzki (1900-73) was known mainly for his Romantic interpretations and his collaborations with the greatest artists of the 20th century. But this Switzerland-by-adoption conductor, who would eventually take over the Swiss Romande Orchestra from Ernest Ansermet (and was a better conductor in my opinion, though I know that opens up a can of worms), has not gotten the post-mortem accolades that one might have expected. Though he made well over 100 orchestral and concerto recordings for EMI-HMV and EMI-Columbia, including a landmark First and Ninth Symphony of Mahler with the Israelis in 1954, his reputation seems to reside primarily with Serious Record Collectors who really know their music, and not so much with the general public.

Though these transfers are truly excellent, one can see that what was considered great mono sound back in 1956 has changed somewhat today. There is congestion in the high areas (though not consistently), some tape shifting and slight drop out (though this occurs rarely), but overall the wide-ranging sound is quite acceptable and belongs right up there with the best recordings of the day that almost sound like they are morphing into stereo. The string lines especially are radiantly clear, with exceptional presence. Performance-wise, this is about as good as you could ask for. No one but Bernstein, whose Columbia set would upstage this one just a few years later, has possessed such an innate understanding of Schumann and taken him at his word in everything from tempos to orchestration. It is true that the texts had become corrupt at that time for a variety of reasons, but Kletzki is well within even the most dedicated HIP parameters for what is acceptable for Schumann these days, assuming you buy into all of that to begin with. Not a first choice by any means (get the Bernstein Vienna DVD set first, and supplement with Dausgaard on BIS and Barenboim on Warner), but well worth it for great Schumann interpretation, and mandatory for Schumann lovers (aren't we all?).

Moving over to the Bostock readings is like hearing Shakespeare recited by the voice on an answering machine. This plays to the HIP crowd completely, not through period instruments (this is the Czech Chamber PO after all), but through a new edition by Joachim Draheim established between 1993 and 2001. I won't comment on the textual accuracies or dynamic resolutions that claim to be resolved by this edition--and there is no question that a lot of junk crept into these symphonies over the years, both through Brahms and Clara and others--but what is amazing is how little they reflect in the hearing. The interpretative spectrum of Schumann's music is so vast that there seems little in the way of newness that might surprise us. What did surprise me is how deadly dull these magnificent works can be made to sound in the wrong hands. The playing, while assured and competent, is lethargic in tone, bored, routine, and utterly uninspired. It's as if the conductor were so buried in the score--making sure that the newly published Breitkopf & Hartel Urtext was followed to perfection--that he lost sight of the music underneath. The orchestra is around 49 members--probably about the same as Schumann would have worked with initially; its members all sound as if they want to be somewhere else. Two redeeming features: there is the inclusion of the Scherzo in G Minor, originally conceived for the First Symphony, and the notes by Draheim are wonderful, in depth, and quite long--16 pages. Would that the performances were up to the same standards. I am sure the Urtext deserves better, and we will one day no doubt hear it. -- Fanfare, Steven E. Ritter, January 2010

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Symphony No. 1 in B flat major ('Spring'), Op. 38: 1. Andante un poco maestoso. Allegro molto vivace
  2. Symphony No. 1 in B flat major ('Spring'), Op. 38: 2. Larghetto
  3. Symphony No. 1 in B flat major ('Spring'), Op. 38: 3. Scherzo: Molto vivace
  4. Symphony No. 1 in B flat major ('Spring'), Op. 38: 4. Allegro animato e grazioso
  5. Bunte Blätter No. 13 ('Scherzo') for piano, Op. 99/13
  6. Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120: 1. Ziemlich langsam. Lebhaft
  7. Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120: 2. Romanze: Ziemlich langsam
  8. Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120: 3. Scherzo: Lebhaft
  9. Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120: 4. Langsam. Lebhaft

Disc: 2

  1. Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61: 1. Sostenuto assai. Allegro ma non tanto
  2. Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61: 2. Scherzo: Allegro vivace
  3. Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61: 3. Adagio espressivo
  4. Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61: 4. Allegro molto vivace
  5. Symphony No. 3 in E flat major ('Rhenish'), Op. 97: 1. Lebhaft
  6. Symphony No. 3 in E flat major ('Rhenish'), Op. 97: 2. Scherzo
  7. Symphony No. 3 in E flat major ('Rhenish'), Op. 97: 3. Nicht Schnell
  8. Symphony No. 3 in E flat major ('Rhenish'), Op. 97: 4. Feierlich
  9. Symphony No. 3 in E flat major ('Rhenish'), Op. 97: 5. Lebhaft

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