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Schumann: Symphonies 1 - 4
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"Excellence at this level serves only to renew our faith both in the vitality of the classics and in the ability of today's interpreters to triumphantly stand toe to toe with the greatest recorded documents of the past." (10/10 rating!)-CLASSICS TODAY
"In this cycle of the Symphonies with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, Zinman reveals Schumann every bit as great as his friends Mendelssohn and Brahms and nearly as great as his idols Schubert and Beethoven. In Zinman's hands and as realized by the Zurich Orchestra, Schumann's First is charming and courageous, his Second is darkness and fright, his Third is awe and delight, and his Fourth is darkness to light. The Zurich Orchestra plays with a strong, warm tone and deep, radiant colors. Arte Nova's sound is richly detailed and lushly reverberant. One of the great Schumann cycles. Anyone who loves Schumann's music or German Romantic symphonies will love these discs." -ALL MUSIC GUIDE
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As mentioned already, there are no obvious changes in the score used for Zinman's recording of the First Symphony, but for Symphonies 2-4, a new critical edition was used, and the results are frequently almost startling, revealing a new character of each of these well-known works. The most obvious revelation occurs in the "Rhenish" Symphony (the Third) in which the use of appoggiaturas changes the character of the main theme of the first movement. A new, almost Baroque quality emerges in this outgoing, open air music that somehow reminds us of Schumann's two contrasting characters of Florestan and Eusibius, of the first movement of Beethoven's "Eroica" (in the same key and with the same contrast of heroic and melancholy music), and of the spirit of J.S. Bach, which returns in the dramatic fourth movement. Zinman's performance of this entire symphony is probably the most convincing one available, since Schumann's method here of varied repitition rather than through-composed symphonic argument can make his first movement,at least, a bit wearing on the patience of even the most sympathetic listener. Zinman avoids this pitfall through finely judged tempos and a variety of timbres which throw new light on each familiar phrase. In the succeeding movements, the third and the fifth are really outstanding for the true intimacy of early Romantic warmth in the intermezzo third movement and for the sheer youthful jauntiness and spunk of the out-of-doors finale. As in all of these performances, the winds, brass, and tympani must come in for special mention, especially the latter, which is played with such zest that it drives the piece into a joyous dance. Schumann's least "symphonic" symphony, almost a suite really, the "Rhenish" really shines with special effect in Zinman's treatment.
Zinman's reading of the great Fourth Symphony, probably Schumann's best, is equally splendid, with new aspects of the score revealed as in his recording of the "Rhenish," but in the Second Symphony, which Schumann considered his best, the great third, slow movement proves to be a problem. Even though it's certainly very well performed, a certain lack of feeling is a serious flaw in an otherwise excellent performance of this very personal symphony. As the outstanding program notes tell us, Schumann quotes Bach in this slow movement (the tragic theme is brought back as triumphant in the finale) and includes a fugue, since his study of Bach's music saved his life and brought him back from the depths of his depression. Zinman is perhaps a bit too brisk here, though it really doesn't sound like it, since the basic note values aren't rushed, but a timing shows that Zinman takes it about two minutes faster than any other version I'm aware of, clocking in at about eight and a half minutes as opposed to about ten and a half minutes. At first, I thought a repeat was cut, but I don't think that's what happens. Instead, it seems that Zinman sees this movement in the same clear, Classical light as the rest of the symphony, and he certainly has that option, but I prefer Szell in this particular movement (and he's great in the rest of the C Major Symphony, as he is in the other three). I must say that many critics see this slow movement in the same way that Zinman apparently does, and Schumann himself compared his C Major Symphony with Mozart's last in the same key.
Finally, this is a great, indispensable set of Schumann's standard symphonies, and in excellent sound, is essential listening for everyone who thinks he or she knows these works. J.E. Gardiner's equally essential set must be added to our list, since it contains worderful performances of both versions of the D Minor Symphony, the early g minor symphony fragment, the Overture, Scherzo, and Finale, as well as the Konzertstuck for Four Horns, along with the standard four symphonies. And don't forget the Szell, still great after all these years. In this august company, Zinman takes a place of special honor. We only wait with great curiosity to hear Paavo Jarvi's entry into the Schumann symphony sweepstakes due to be released by RCA in November.
P.S. I've been hoping David Zinman would record the Brahms Symphonies next, and RCA has just released his new recording of the Brahms this month (11-11) as well as Schumann's 1st and 3rd with Paavo Jarvi.
At last, I have found in Zinman's collection an interpretation of Schumann that finally makes sense. With a streamlined orchestra and consistently brisk tempi, Zinman gives us coherent interpretations from beginning to end. Lean, tightly focused performances allow the listener to appreciate the subtleties of Schumann's structures that are so often lost in substandard performances.
If that were not good enough, Arte Nova has the decency to offer a 2-CD set at a price that costs less than many single CDs! Even if you are unsure about this interpretation, how can you go wrong with a price like that? It would be a bargain at twice the price.
Anyone seriously interested in the orchestral music of Schumann must give serious consideration to this exceptional collection.
were labelled "Symphony 1" and "Symphony 2". One of the cds was actually Zinman, Tonhalle, and Symphonies 1 & 2.
The other cd (same label) was Symphonies 3 & 4, but not Zinman; it was someone else, maybe Bernstein.
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The Zinman/Tonhalle Schumann symphony cycle has been lauded for a fresh, even modern/"radical" approach using updated versions of the scores, with elements of...Read more