Symphony No.2 in C, Op.61
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.97 (Rhenish)
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
Symphony 2 recorded 31 January-2 February 2010 in the Rosengarten, Mannheim and the Konzerthaus, Freiburg; Symphony 3 recorded 17-24 March 2002 in the Konzerthaus, Freiburg and the Alte Oper, Frankfurt
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: September 2010
CD No: HÄNSSLER CLASSIC
Duration: 71 minutes
Any recording conducted by Michael Gielen (born in Dresden in 1927) is an event. His vast experience as a musician extends to that of composing (pretty challenging) music, and his closely-observed reading of any score (Classical, Romantic, new) is very much that of a creator. That so late in his career he has turned to Schumann’s wonderful symphonies (a second disc containing the ‘Spring’ and Fourth symphonies can surely only be a matter of a short time away, maybe with the latter work in both its versions) is mouth-watering news, the resulting performances a joy from start to finish.
The great Second Symphony is here a very complete experience, from the poetry-infused slow introduction, quite broad with precisely weighted accents to keep the music on-track, always keenly detailed and balanced, through a first-movement allegro that is measured but forward-moving (the lack of an exposition repeat a surprise, but a convincing omission), intensely phrased and, indeed, ‘sung’, as befits one of the greatest of Lieder composers. Throughout, Gielen’s attention to detail, the small print, is enlightening, whether in the articulate scherzo, its two trios distinct but belonging, the coda in strict tempo to what has gone before, or in the manifold beauties of the sublime slow movement, here broadly paced, burdened with feeling and climbing ecstatically, founded on a strong bass line, as throughout, the double basses left-positioned and thus indicative of Gielen’s use of all-important antiphonal violins. The triumphant finale, timpani well to the fore in the final bars, vindicates all that has gone before it.
The ‘Rhenish’ Symphony receives a glorious outing, propulsive, incisive and grand in the opening movement (some delicious timbres, dynamics and balances created), the middle-movements a mix of gentle rhythms, high-day reminiscences, and imposing ceremony, all luminously expressed. The finale, nifty but always fluent, begins at a dynamic quiet enough to make the music seem surreptitious, Gielen gathering fullness and exuberance to end this festive work in a blaze of confidence; after all, this symphony is from a particularly ‘happy’ time in Schumann’s life.
With excellent sound, immediate and natural – and consistent throughout the respective symphonies for all that both performances were recorded in more than one venue (the C major Symphony is from concerts, the ‘Rhenish’ finds the orchestra a little more recessed and lustrous) – this is a release full of good and attractive things, illuminating Schumann from the inside to compelling effect.