Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Schumann: Symphony No. 4 - Järvi

Sa-cd.net
John Miller
10/03/2014

After the first issue of Järvi's Schumann Project (Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3 - Paavo Järvi), RCA Red Seal only issued the following volumes in the Far East. This final disc, therefore, has a front cover which looks fully western, while the rest of the presentation is in Japanese, including the notes, except for the personnel list of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie and a dedication from the orchestra for the memory of horn player Volker Grewell, a soloist on this disc.

All the features of the DK's performance under Järvi's baton which attracted me on the first disc of the Schumann Cycle are present here. The DK players are expert soloists themselves, and each orchestral section seeks the "life within" their instrumental parts, clarifying and enriching Schumann's experimental orchestration with perfectly placed accents, snappy rhythms and subtly-nuanced phrasing.

The disc provides a well-chosen concert-like collection of two orchestral pieces, including the Overture, Scherzo and Finale of 1841, which was first presented in the same Gewandhouse Orchestra concert as the Fourth Symphony. Together with the Konzertstück for 4 horns and orchestra, Op. 86 (1849), these once forgotten pieces have been appearing with increasing frequency, at least as "fill-ups" in recordings. Schumann referred to his Overture, Scherzo and Finale as having a "light, friendly character" which is just how Järvi and the DK present it. The Konzertstück for 4 horns and orchestra has a more skillful and inventive character. It was written to help along the absorption of the newly invented valve systems for the French horn into reluctant orchestras, and there are period performances with four soloists playing early rotary valve horns while the orchestral horns remain as valveless (e.g. Gardiner on RBCD). Here the DK's soloists play modern horns. Soloists Stephan Dohr, Elka Schutz Hökelmann, Volker Grewel and Thomas Sonnen form a tightly knit ensemble, and display their virtuosity (particularly Dohr who has much tessitura to negotiate) lightly but with great wit.

Schumann's Fourth Symphony had a long gestation, from its inception in 1841 to a major revision a decade later. Although Järvi has elected to perform the 1851 version (a revision undertaken by a master at the peak of his powers), there was yet another (less radical) revision in 1853. The structure of this symphony was experimental for Schumann, and he never again traveled so far from the Viennese classical form of his beloved Beethoven. Not only are the "rules" of sonata structure abjured and reinvented, the four movements are linked together as if continuous. Since there are also recurrences in each movement of his initial thematic motifs, which themselves have great economy of means, one might also suggest the Fourth to be a progenitor of Liszt's cyclic symphonic structures.

Järvi produces a thrilling traverse of the Fourth, from its dark and nervously tense start on an upbeat, through the struggle of the first movement to finally reach its feminine "second subject", sweet and deeply romantic - as late as the last third of his structure - and spurring the movement's jubilant ending. The Romance is not intended to be a standard Germanic slow movement but was based on a medieval slow dance, which the DK players indicate with a gentle and sensuous lilt. Their view of the movement is dignified and somewhat aloof, which forms a wonderful contrast with the dynamism and rough manners of the following Scherzo, often knocked about by off beat rhythms until its moonlit trio enters to placate matters. In continuation, the Finale introduces itself with a lovely vision of sunrise, arriving triumphantly at a loud, shining major chord, after which the first movement motifs reappear to be re-digested with storms of energy, here showing fabulously precise articulation and rhythmic cohesion from the orchestra.

Polyhymnia's recording in the Funkhous Köpenick, Berlin is clean and well-balanced, but even in 5.0 mode the auditorium seems rather dry, there is little back to front perspective and the basses seem reticent. Turning to the first disc in the set, from the same venue, there was more of the large hall reverberance and noticeably well-focused wide and deep disposition of the instrumental groups, mirroring the booklet's photograph of a session. For the missing warmth, I found that on the BluRay discs of "Schumann at Pier 2", despite being slightly closer for the video, the spacious warmth of Pier 2 provides a much more thrilling sound than on either SA-CDs.

Collectors of the full set of SA-CDs in the Järvi/DK Schumann Project will want this new Fourth; those searching for a full set from scratch will have a lot to listen to when making a personal decision, with competition including the fresh-sounding Dausgaard on BIS and, as I write, a new set from Steffens on Coviello, as yet un-reviewed. While the recording of this RCA may not be the best, Järvi's performances are. The fine fill-ups on this disc also might tip your choice.


Performance:  Sonics (S/MC): /
http://www.sa-cd.net/showreviews/9287

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