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Robert R. Reilly
Crisis Magazine, May 2012

…I want to briefly mention how good the Naxos recording…is of Schumann’s Scenes from Goethe’s Faust, an entirely convincing performance by the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, under Antoni Wit. This is a terrific bargain © 2012 Crisis Magazine

William Kreindler
MusicWeb International, September 2011

…this is a work that requires large forces, including seven soloists, each taking multiple roles. Christine Libor is appropriately plaintive as Gretchen, but Iwona Hosse is more impressive as both the spirit of Worry and as the Magna Peccatrix. Anna Lubanska is creditable as the spirit of Want. Among the men the standout is Andrew Gangestad who manages to make Mephistopheles and Pater Profundus sound as if they were being portrayed by different singers. He is especially impressive in the Midnight scene of Part 2, as is Jaakko Kortekangas who plays Faust. Kortekangas is also good in his other roles of Doctor Marianus and Pater Seraphicus. I was not especially impressed by the choral work on this recording, but the Warsaw Philharmonic displays a great range of emotion in their performance and Antoni Wit has complete and sometimes inspired control over all his forces.

Overall, the present recording may not be up to some of these others, but it does have committed performances by the soloists and excellent orchestral playing to recommend it.

Steven E. Ritter
Fanfare, July 2011

… if you are new to the work and don’t want to risk too great an investment, you could do a lot worse than Wit and company. This oft-underrated conductor has put together a fine performance with no inherent weaknesses, capturing the overall flavor of this esoteric but eminently rewarding score with ease.The Warsaw Philharmonic is just fine…

The sound is good…Naxos is able to provide a sense of largeness that while sacrificing clarity does add heft to the recording.

Schumann of course was as fascinated by Faust as every other composer of that age. But in choosing his texts, he avoided the most popular parts of part I and any of the “songs” of the work, concentrating instead on the transfiguration aspects of part II. The result is a very personal and even intimate look at Faust divorced from the whole and representing Schumann’s own take on the work, essentially cherry-picked. One has to read Schumann’s text carefully to appreciate his attempt at presenting the “Schumann” Faust. Of course the texts will be tough to come by here as they are not offered, except online. Wit and forces again have a firm grasp of the concept and present it very well…

Andrew Stewart
Classic FM, April 2011

You may not know these soloists or be vaguely aware of Antoni Wit…but the quality and musical intelligence of all concerned with this studio album generally match, and often exceed, what more famous names have brought to Schumann’s Faust on record…Characterful solo performances, formidable choral singing and refined orchestral playing help make this Faust an unbeatable bargain. The deal is sealed by excellent recorded sound and an (essential) online libretto and English translation.

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Music Review, March 2011

Classical music acolytes will know that Robert Schumann (1810–1856) fashioned a cornerstone of the romantic era repertoire primarily via his four symphonies, his concerto for piano and the one for cello, his lieder, his solo piano music and his chamber works. Compositions for vocal soloists, choir and orchestra are rather few and for the most part underperformed. So when a new recording of his Scenes from Goethe’s Faust (2-CD Naxos 8.572430–31) becomes available, it is an occasion. The version at hand involves the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, the Warsaw Boy’s Choir and soloists, all under the direction of Antoni Wit.

This is a work that is typically Schumannesque in its melodic grandeur. There is a pronounced Beethovian influence in the opening of Part Two (specifically a rousing choral-soloist-orchestral anthemic huzzah related to the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth), as filtered by RS’s own musical instincts and inspiration. The rest is more directly idiomatic to Schumann’s music. It is also only natural that comparisons be drawn between Schumann’s work and Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust. Scenes prefigures and precurses Berlioz in the nature of its overall thrust and, of course, the Faustian theme.

It may not be among the absolute top-tier masterpieces of its era. But it most certainly deserves reconsideration. The Wit-Warsaw recording seems a fit way to give the work a fair hearing. Orchestral sinuousness combines with balance, clarity and passion throughout. The soloists do a good job, and the amassed choirs are especially excellent. It is a fine performance.

At the Naxos budget price this one is hard to resist. Schumannites take heed!

Michael Scott Rohan
BBC Music Magazine, March 2011

Antoni Wit’s new version concedes little or nothing to Harnoncourt…and improves on his interpretation with less mannered, more natural pacing. The soloists are also fine, especially Jaako Kortekangas’s faust, reminiscent of Fischer-Dieskau but silkier, and Andrew Gangestad’s Mephistopheles.

David Hurwitz, February 2011

Schumann worked on his Scenes from Faust for some nine years, from 1847 until just before his attempted suicide. It contains some of his finest dramatic music, especially the large continuous scenes in Part 2, and because the orchestra spends most of its time accompanying the singers, the problem of his thick and monochrome late scoring doesn’t ruin the enjoyment. Indeed, there are some lovely instrumental touches throughout the work: the eerie flutes and piccolo at the start of Part 2’s Midnight scene (shades of Mendelssohn, only spookier); the stabbing, syncopated horn rhythms in Faust’s death scene; and the delicate writing for harp in Part 3 at “Höchste Herrscherin der Welt”. The work has not lacked for champions, including Benjamin Britten and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, but this new performance is as fine as any yet recorded.

Antoni Wit has at his disposal an excellent chorus and a very fine orchestra. He unclogs Schumann’s textures by having timpani play with hard sticks and by encouraging the brass to play with a characterful, unblended sonority. Trumpets, horns, and trombones retain their special timbre, especially in pianissimo, while the woodwinds color the string parts that they so often merely double. Wit’s tempos flow with unforced naturalness and real excitement where called for. The concluding Chorus Mysticus (Wit chooses Schumann’s original version) really takes off at its “Lebhaft” second half.

Best of all, Wit has an outstanding lineup of soloists. Christiane Libor sings Gretchen (later Una Poenitentium and Not) with a really beautiful, steady tone. Her Church scene, with Andrew Gangestad’s suave Mephistopheles, is gripping. Jaakko Kortekangas makes an excellent Faust/Doctor Marianus. Faust’s death is deeply moving, and in Part 3 he gets the lines that Mahler later assigned to a tenor, and it works just as well (better in this context, of course). He’s a pleasure to listen to.

The Naxos engineers capture the whole production in sonics of great warmth, clarity, and naturalness. It may be that Schumann’s Faust will never regain its 19th century popularity, but it contains some wonderful music, and this version will be hard to beat.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2011

Like so many composers of his time, Robert Schumann was drawn to Goethe’s verse tragedy, Faust, and worked over a period of ten years setting to music scenes from the story. In many ways the figure of Faust, who is torn between love and earthly pleasures, was a mirror on Schumann’s love for the teenage Clara and his own dissolute life that engendered an untimely death. He selected only sections that interested him, in particular Faust’s redemption and purification.They were not composed in the order of Goethe’s work, and by the time of Schumann’s death parts of his score had still to receive their first performance. He had rejected the idea of an opera, though his eventual score was not far short of the time taken by a three act opera. It’s requirement for a large number of soloists makes the work relatively rare in the concert hall, and, it has to be said , it is only as good as its performers make it. Conductor, Antoni Wit, sets the scene with an urgent account of the symphonic overture, the first scene for the four main protagonists providing a general idea of the story to unfold. A long aria for Faust’s beloved, Gretchen, finds the forceful voice of German-born soprano, Christiane Libor, but it is the hugely experienced Polish soprano, Iwona Hossa, who becomes the principal soprano in Faust’s Transfiguration. The heroic tenor voice of Daniel Kirch is heard in the major parts of Ariel and Peter Ecstaticus, and as the work progresses the baritone of Jaako Kortekangas carries much of the performance as Faust, Doctor Marianus and Peter Seraphicus, the young Fin possessing a perfectly projected voice of admirable power. Throughout the playing of the Warsaw Orchestra has been an object lesson in refinement, and unlike the recording conducted by Claudio Abbado on Sony, the engineers have produced a realistic concert hall balance between the very diverse performers, the choir naturally situated well to the rear.

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