For the young Schumann, the composition of symphonies was a long-held ambition, one that could only be fulfilled through a whirlwind apprenticeship in mastering piano music, song and chamber music. Each genre he worked on with feverish intensity until in 1841, having finally overcome the obstacles placed in his way by his beloved Clara’s father, Friedrich Wieck, he married her, and promptly set to work, as if to prove to her, to himself and to the world that he was fit to emulate Beethoven’s example. The ‘Spring’ Symphony he dashed off in a matter of days, and although the subtitle had its roots in a (suppressed) piece of poetic inspiration, there’s no question that this is young man’s music of the highest exuberance, bursting with vitality and with the thematic links that charge Schumann’s works with sometimes dangerous energy. If the later symphonies are more soberly organised, if anything their expressive impact is all the greater, reaching a peak in the Bachinspired central section of the Second’s slow movement and the awesome processional of the Third’s fourth movement, which he wrote, as it were, in the shadow of Cologne Cathedral.
Riccardo Muti has long been a champion of these works which many other great names have shunned for their supposedly faulty orchestration or wearisome intensity. In this, his second recorded cycle, he finds a supple lyricism, aided by what is generally acknowledged as the finest string section in the world.
“Tempos are nicely gauged, the playing is mostly spot-on (violin desks do valiantly in the Second Symphony’s Scherzo) and [the] sound quality is warm, immediate and cleanly defined. The “Rhenish” seems to me the more
memorable of the performances, again vigorous and neatly phrased, with plenty of lively interplay between sections and a sweetly yielding violin tone.”
“The signature of Muti’s Vienna cycle is that of a V12 power unit driven sleek, fast and smooth. His orchestra is a superlative outfit with a string section of seemingly invincible capabilities. Details are deeply etched and attentively italicised. The sound is uniform and exemplary. That said, it’s all too chromium-steel even by comparison with Muti’s own 1970s self.”
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