Friday, January 29, 2016

The best Schumann recordings of the last five years - SCHUMANN Symphonies 1 & 3
Rob Cowan

Symphony No. 3, 'Rhenish'
Symphony No. 1, 'Spring'

SCHUMANN Symphonies 1 & 3

Chamber-sized Schumann from Järvi’s Bremen band`

A telling litmus test for performances of the Rhenish is the gently flowing, song-like third movement (marked simply Nicht schnell), which sorts out those who prefer to underline the lyrical aspects of Schumann’s writing from those who don’t. Paavo Järvi evidently does: he starts lightly and breezily, and when he reaches the tripping second subject for strings, gently accelerates. Fabio Luisi (with the Vienna SO) has a similar notion, though he makes more of a meal of the tempo-shift, whereas neither Norrington (with the Stuttgart RSO) nor Dausgaard (with the Swedish CO) alter the pulse. Theirs are energetic performances, prioritising clarity in music that is too often (wrongly) accused of sounding overly stodgy.

Järvi is always animated and alert to the music’s expressive potential: he achieves the best of both worlds. His tempi are swift but never rushed; he runs the cursor along significant inner voices (these are extremely transparent readings), and his judgement of key musical transitions attests to genuine musical intuition. He doesn’t baulk at making some fairly unconventional interpretative decisions: in the Scherzo of the First Symphony, for example, he doubles the tempo for the first Trio and takes the second ‘in tempo’, which works beautifully. Järvi allows the same work’s Larghetto to sing unaffectedly and the Rhenish’s ‘cathedral’ fourth movement is imposing without sounding portentous. The resourceful Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen is evidently manned by players who listen very closely to one another (these performances are rather like ‘chamber music writ large’), and the sound is superbly balanced. So, an unreserved recommendation.

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