SCHUMANN: Complete Symphonic Works, Vol. II = Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61; Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 97 “Rhenish” – WDR Sinfonieorchester Cologne/ Heinz Holliger – Audite 97.678, 66:50 [Distr. by Naxos] (8/12/14) ****:
Heinz Holliger (b. 1939) extends his repute as an orchestra leader – besides his international repute on the oboe – with hearty and rather impulsive readings of the two middle-numbered – (although they would have been fifth and sixth in his chronology of creation) – Schumann symphonies, recorded January-March 2012. Holliger works within the context of Schumann’s original orchestral forces, which favor a large body of strings and relatively thin woodwind forces. The urgent pace of the C Major Symphony – which does repeat the first movement exposition – seems to capitalize on both the work’s affinity for Beethoven’s energy and Bach’s exalted notion of polyphony. Holliger’s sense of rapturous impetuosity recalls the elated brio that Dimitri Mitropoulos and Leonard Bernstein brought to the score, the latter of whom often berated George Szell for his having treated the entire work too much in the spirit of a march.
The robust Scherzo of the C Major Symphony easily recalls the Beethoven Ninth, though the two trios in Schumann evoke more languor than we find in the Bonn master. The second of the two trios invokes the anagram B-A-C-H, and the musical progression does achieve a dimension appropriate to a lyrical chorale before the hectic figures return to the spirit of Beethoven. Holliger keeps the forward pulse of the haunted Adagio espressivo moving, where more “transcendental” imaginations like those of Sinopoli, Klemperer, and Bernstein wish to evoke an adumbration of Mahler in its tragic, chromatic tapestry, redolent with allusions to Bach. The heroic impulse, too, manifests itself in glowing terms, neither inflated nor prosaic, even as it invokes Beethoven’s cyclic procedure.
Schumann’s somewhat jingoistic fervor for the Rhine River and the Rhineland finds noble expression in his last symphony, the E-flat Major of 1850. Dimitri Mitropoulos and Leonard Bernstein both maintained a healthy abandon for this music, which often surges forward in martial and ecclesiastical garb. Holliger’s fervent approach projects perhaps less mania than the aforementioned New York conductors and rather favors the passionately restrained Carl Schuricht. We enjoy nicely resonant response from the WDR Cologne strings, brass, and tympani, especially in the last statement of the theme of the first movement. Each of the successive movements evinces more rustic and folkish imagery, including elements of Schubert’s laendler and Bach’s canons. As the successive movements’ tempos – lied and intermezzo, respectively – slow down for the apotheosis of the fourth movement Feierlich – based on Schumann’s awe for the sacred ceremony he witnessed at the Cologne Cathedral – we feel the tread in fourths upon hallowed ground. The WDR trombones prove particularly vibrant in character. The last movement Lebhaft academically synthesizes the previous movements’ motifs while at the same time elevating them to the status of a victory hymn. Holliger once more eschews ostentatious pomp in favor of restrained joy and the celebration of the Rhinelanders’ free spirit.
[If you have Blu-ray (or SACD) playback, you might be better off to consider the Berlin Philharmonic/ Simon Rattle set of all four Schumann Symphonies which we recently rave-reviewed. The Blu-ray version has not only the Pure Audio 5.1 versions at 96L/24, but also complete video performances of all four symphonies with DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtracks. There are also SACD-only complete sets by Thomas Dausgaurd on BIS, and Frank Beermann on CPO…Ed.]