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 Recording of the Week  Claudio Abbado conducts Schumann's Second Symphony

The great Italian conductor, Claudio Abbado, reached his eightieth birthday last Wednesday, and in celebration of this, Deutsche Grammophon has just released the latest of his discs conducting Orchestra Mozart (an ensemble of which he is Artistic Director), this time in a recording of Schumann’s Symphony No. 2, coupled with two overtures, Manfred and Genoveva.

Claudio Abbado
Claudio Abbado

I’ve often felt that Schumann’s symphonies don’t fully get the recognition they deserve, and so it’s always good to have a new recording of any of them, especially when it's as full of life and energy as this one. The ensemble’s name will give you a clue to their standard repertoire, and something I liked very much about this recording is how Abbado brought the chamber-like qualities that you need for Mozart to the music of Schumann. It’s never stodgy or heavy, and there’s such a vivacious sparkle beaming through every bar. Abbado’s evident love for this symphony is delightfully infectious.

Textures are really clear, and while the string section is larger than this orchestra usually wields, it still sounds and feels very much like a chamber ensemble, with all the transparency that such a group brings. The woodwind are remarkably light and airy, especially in the first Trio of the symphony’s second movement, as well as in the Manfred overture, where we’re treated to some absolutely exquisite oboe and flute playing in the slower passages. The brass have their moments, too: there’s some great fanfare-like stuff for the horns in the Genoveva overture, a piece which I must admit was new to me, but is certainly worth getting to know.

I think my favourite movement of the symphony, though, has to be the third, Adagio espressivo. There are bars here and there that remind me of Mendelssohn, but most of all I feel it definitely looks forward to the symphonies of Brahms. If you love the latter’s music then I’ll happily take a bet that you’ll love this symphony too, and I strongly recommend this recording. Although Abbado has recorded some of Schumann’s music before, I believe this is the first time he has committed any of the symphonies to disc; on this evidence I hope the other three will follow!

If you’re looking to celebrate Abbado’s birthday in even more lavish style, then there are two boxed sets worth mentioning also. The first is a collection entitled Claudio Abbado – The Decca Years, and is a seven-disc set consisting of the contents of nine LP recordings that he made for the label between 1966 and 1969. The repertoire covered is quite an eclectic mix, ranging from a few symphonies by Beethoven, Bruckner, and Mendelssohn to music by Prokofiev, Janáček and Hindemith (including a really rather good recording of the latter’s Symphonic Metamorphosis with the LSO).

Furthermore, for the truly extravagant among you, there’s DG’s Claudio Abbado: The Symphony Edition, with a whopping forty discs of, amongst other things, the complete symphonies of Brahms, Beethoven, Mahler, Schubert, and Mendelssohn, as well as some by Haydn, Mozart, and Bruckner. I think the Mahler and Brahms cycles in particular are fantastic recordings, and the selection of Mozart symphonies (also performed by Orchestra Mozart) is a joy. Happy eightieth birthday, Claudio!

Schumann: Symphony No. 2 & Overtures

Orchestra Mozart, Claudio Abbado (download not currently available in all countries)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Claudio Abbado: The Symphony Edition

40-disc collection of Abbado’s recordings for Deutsche Grammophon of great symphonies, including the complete symphonies of Brahms, Beethoven, Mahler, Schubert, and Mendelssohn, as well as some by Haydn, Mozart, and Bruckner. Abbado conducts orchestras such as Orchestra Mozart, Berliner Philharmoniker, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Available Format: CD

Claudio Abbado: The Decca Years

7-disc set comprising the contents of nine LP recordings made by Abbado for Decca between 1966 and 1969, conducting orchestras such as the New Philharmonia Orchestra, Wiener Philharmoniker, and the London Symphony Orchestra. Repertoire includes symphonies by Beethoven, Bruckner, and Mendelssohn, as well as music by Prokofiev, Janáček and Hindemith.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC