Monday, February 16, 2015

Schumann the Arch-Romantic

Deutsche Gramaphon (Archiv Produktion) 479 2515 (5-CD box set) (2014)
Schumann: Complete Symphonies
Das Paradies und die Peri Op. 50 etc.
The Monteverdi Choir
Orchestre Révolutionaire et Romantique
John Eliot Gardiner

If you missed any of these scintillating, uniquely passionate performances when they first appeared in the mid-1990s, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of this attractive 5-disc compilation from Deutsche Gramophone's Collector's Edition line of re-issues. As with other entries in the series, this handsomely laminated box includes discs in sufficiently sturdy cardboard slipcases along with a semi-glossy booklet of documentation, all firmly--yet not too tightly--packaged. The set includes the four symphonies, as well as a second version of the Fourth, and an earlier unfinished Symphony in g minor; the exciting Konzertstuck (Concert Piece) for 4 horns and orchestra Op. 86, and the Overture, Scherzo, and Finale Op. 52; a pair of choral works, the rarely-heard Requiem for Manon Op. 98b, and Nachtlied for chorus and orchestra Op. 108. Perhaps the true highlight, and certainly the great "find" on this set is the thoroughly delightful, sparklingly lyrical 1843 oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri (Op. 50), featuring the magnificent Barbara Bonny as the Peri.

Gardiner's Schumann is nothing short of revelatory; not necessarily because of its unique period-instruments sound, but more, I think, because this is a conductor who is less concerned about proving Schumann's status as a "great" or "serious" composer, than deeply committed to revealing him as the unabashed, exciting, full-blown first-among-romantics he surely was. The supposedly-familiar symphonies have never been so thrilling, dynamic, hard-driving, and viscerally compelling. This is Schumann with some real blood pumping in its veins! Perhaps, more raucous and even a bit rude when compared to so many of the elegant "mainstream classical" interpretations familiar to most, Gardiner's readings have much less Mendelssohn-ian elegance and a good deal more Beethoven-ian fire about them. As always, the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique plays with grandeur and panache, and though the period-instruments sound can at times be somewhat obtrusive--especially in the brassy tutti sections--the emotive impact of the music is undeniable.

Enthusiastically recommended!

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