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Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, September 2012

SCHUMANN, R.: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.571212
SCHUMANN, R.: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.571213

…the patient, thoroughgoing study of these symphonies by Gerard Schwarz and his ability to inspire the members of the Seattle Symphony with his vision pays off handsomely in really luminous performances. As Schwarz shows us, there is a wealth of great symphonic writing, not just great melodies, in all these scores. Schwarz’ command of the irresistible onward movement unique to each symphony, plus his grasp of their vibrant rhythms, gives him the clear edge over most Schumann interpreters.

Volume 1 contains Symphonies 1 and 2. The First, the well-loved “Spring” Symphony, makes a stunning impact right from the moment when the slow, quiet introduction is succeeded by a sensational fanfare in the horns and trumpets that Schumann described as “a summons to life,” and which, incidentally, provides the germ from which many of the themes in the ensuing movements will spring. The deeply romantic Larghetto beautifully characterized in this performance, is followed by a rather frenetic Scherzo in the nature of a minuet (but scarcely danceable) and an ebullient finale that recaptures the mood of the opening movement and in which we hear again the three ascending notes from its stirring fanfare.

Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61…is uncommonly affirmative in tone, thanks to the prominent use it makes of a brass chorale in the opening movement…casting its spell on the succeeding Scherzo so strongly that it seems in retrospect like a chorale prelude…The slow movement, Adagio espressivo, has a truly beautiful, if melancholy, melody, which was what Schumann was probably referring to when he said the Second reminded him of “dark days.” Its function soon becomes apparent, at least under Schwarz’ inspired leadership, as a prelude to the life-affirming finale, Allegro molto vivace,  in which we hear that haunting melody in a more positive-sounding guise, buoyed enormously by the triumphant finale from the opening movement. Schwarz does a great job pacing a work that is more tightly constructed and onward-moving than we might have first surmised.

Volume 2 contains the Third and Fourth Symphonies. The Third, the so-called “Rhenish,” is, unusually, in five movements. Because of its structure and its freely flowing melodies, it may seem deceptively loose-limbed and discursive. But, as Schwarz shows us, the internal links are definitely present and, together with an irresistibly flowing movement characteristic of a work celebrating the beauties of the Rhineland, make the “Rhenish” a very satisfying work from the listener’s perspective. The relaxed nature of the lyricism in the Scherzo movement suggests a Rhine excursion, something every visitor has to take in. Melodic inventiveness in the middle movement, Nicht schnell (not fast) is countered by the restrained beauty of the succeeding movemen…It, in turn, is followed by an ebullient finale that recalls the high spirits of the opening movement and uses a transformed version of the ecclesiastical melody from the fourth.

The Fourth Symphony is unusually concise, its economy being further emphasized by the fact that all four movements are taken without a break. There is also some indication of cyclic form here, with thematic connections unifying the work. That is especially true of the lovely vernal melody played by the violin in the slow movement, Romanze, which recurs in slightly different form in both Trio sections of the following Scherzo. It sounds particularly lovely here, as befits one of Schumann’s most expressive melodies. The recurrence in the finale of a robust chordal melody from the opening movement provides a further unifying element…This is a lighter, more transparent account of the Fourth Symphony than I’ve been used to hearing, and it plays very well in the present recording. © 2012 Audio Video Club of Atlanta

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