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SCHUMANN: The Symphonies (4) – Scottish Ch. Orch./ Robin Ticciati – Linn (2 discs)

SCHUMANN: The Symphonies (4) – Scottish Ch. Orch./ Robin Ticciati – Linn multichannel SACD CKD 450 (2 discs), 133 minutes [Distr. by Naxos] ***1/2:

The only previous SACD recording of all Schumann symphonies in chamber orchestra guise is that of Thomas Dausgaard on the BIS label with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. When I first heard it I liked it, though there were some issues, most notably with the Rhenish. Hearing this new issue with Robin Ticciati, a conductor I have lauded in the past puts Dausgaard a bit in the shadows when we compare the brilliance of execution and the hegemony of the surround sound. Linn has given their all to Ticciati, and it sounds splendid. What bothers me is the apparent embracing of period practices with a modern orchestra, sans vibrato in most instances, and replete with penetrating brass and inconsistent interpretative nuances ranging from extreme rubato to chopped off phrases. I was not aware of this in his recent recording of the Fantastic Symphony, and these pieces are later than that, so why the change now? There is not enough passion in these pieces—which is not to say there is no passion–and though the sprightly tempos are there and plenty of energy and seat-of-your-pants pyrotechnics, the intensity of the slow movement in the Second is absent, so wonderful in Bernstein, the zealous joyfulness of Szell’s First, Furtwangler’s incandescent perfection in the Fourth, and Giulini’s marvelous proportions in the Third—nowhere to be found in these exceptionally well-played and enlightened performances from the standpoint of balances and heightened orchestration.

(Our mutichannel Disc of the Month for June was the Berlin Philharmonic and these four symphonies, on Blu-ray Pure Audio.)

So I can’t recommend this as a first choice at all—the aforementioned conductors each bring far more to the table even with traditional, and in some cases, very old sound. And though it generally beats Dausgaard, he issued three SACDS with a host of overtures and Schumann miscellanea that is convenient to have in one place—not sure what to do!

But I do know that if you are looking for a modern Schumann set in SACD sound, the best place by far is on the CPO label—Frank Beermann with the Robert Schumann Philharmonic in readings that compete with the masters in many ways, and sound better than they could ever hope for. This five-star set is worth every penny, and a worthy addition to any Schumann collection. As far as Ticciati, I’ll have to write off these rather lean and mean readings as an aberration and woeful experimentation, and hope that the next time around he is a little truer to his innate romantic instincts. He gives us an orchestra about the size of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra at Schumann’s time, but it’s hard to believe that this sort of “removed” interpretation would have been then norm. Recommended with caveats.

—Steven Ritter

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