ROBERT SCHUMANN: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3 – The Orchestra of Champs-Elysees/ Philippe Herreweghe, director – Harmonia Mundi

by | Jul 23, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

ROBERT SCHUMANN: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3 – The Orchestra of Champs-Elysees/ Philippe Herreweghe, director – Harmonia Mundi HMC 901972, 64 mins. ****:

I’ve found myself drawn to the symphonies of Robert Schumann for years; despite a great deal of critical negativity towards the “denseness” of his compositional style, they still strike a particularly satisfying chord with me. And I’ve always been a bit wary of period instrument performances, particularly of large-scale symphonic works, and especially of those recordings that employ chamber-sized orchestras. The ensemble in question here, The Orchestra of Champs-Elysees, employs approximately sixty players – a much smaller orchestra than is typically engaged for this repertory. However, in all fairness, I have to also admit that my very favorite recording of this symphonic cycle is the now out-of-print Teldec label recording that features Nikolaus Harnoncourt leading the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, which numbers only fifty players! Their performance is on modern instruments, which adds a little more oomph, and perhaps a bit less stridency than can sometimes be expected with period instrument recordings. So the idea of this recording wasn’t really too foreign to me, and I must also admit that I’ve never heard any recording led by Philippe Herreweghe that was less than satisfying.

And this disc does not disappoint, either. Apparently part of a cycle of Schumann symphonic works by these forces, the disc not only evokes the sound of a much larger symphonic ensemble, but also lacks even the slightest touch of stridency. The string passages are very nearly as sweet-sounding as you’d hear on any modern-instrument recording of these works. Orchestral climaxes are delivered with tremendous impact, and brass and percussion offer the requisite heft to lift these performances to a level of grandeur that one would only expect from a larger, more modern orchestra. Philippe Herreweghe is superb in his ability to elicit every ounce of nuance in the playing of these Romantic warhorses.

Even for a first exposure to these works of Schumann, you’d be hard pressed to do better than this excellent disc. Very highly recommended.

– Tom Gibbs

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