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Robert SCHUMANN (1710-1856)
Symphony No.1 in B-flat major, op.38, ‘Spring’ [32.50]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No.3 in D major, D.200 [25.21]
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, 26-30 January 2015 (Schubert); 21-22 March 2018 (Schumann), Herkulessaal, Munich
BR KLASSIK 900176 [58.11]

This is a most welcome recording, particularly valuable as it gives us a great conductor’s thought on two composers with whom he is not usually associated, in live performances well-captured by the engineers.

I have always found it odd that Schumann’s wonderful symphonies are relatively rare in the concert hall. Of course, for many years, they were considered amateurish in orchestration – indeed, in the past many conductors preferred the Mahler reorchestration. Pioneering recordings of the cycle by Klemperer and Kubelik in the 1960s quite rightly led to revised opinions of the works.

In this performance of the first symphony, Jansons provides us with a measured but always poetic account. Like Klemperer he uses always divided strings, which benefits the textures enormously (it is good to see younger conductors who have reverted to this layout). Woodwinds are less forward than on Klemperer’s classic EMI/Warner recording, now available only as part of a box set of Romantic Symphonies and Overtures. Klemperer’s recording is actually slower in every movement than Jansons, but because of his extraordinary ability to generate a sense of forward movement in even his slowest performances, there is no loss of momentum. A significant difference between Jansons and the two older masters is his treatment of the opening bars. Klemperer and Kubelik are both forthright in the opening fanfare and succeeding bars, Jansons much more tentative (a rustle of spring, perhaps?), but he builds a sense of passion and excitement through the work as a whole. If my first choices remain Klemperer and Kubelik, both wonderfully insightful in characteristically different ways, this newcomer is not unworthy of their company.

There can be no hesitation about the merits of Schubert’s Third Symphony. It is good to hear it performed at all – Schubert did write more symphonies than Nos. 5, 8 and 9 – and it is a delightful work with so many telling details, splendidly realised by Jansons – as fine a performance as I have heard. Notice how his opening Adagio is genuinely maestoso, as marked, a detail missed in some other recordings. Notice, too, the care and wit of so much detailing throughout and the sense of rhythmical energy continually displayed.

The sense of live performance is well captured. Orchestral playing is first-rate, with the occasional hint of congestion in the Schumann, but nothing detracts from the insights on display.

Michael Wilkinson

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