SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major, “Spring”; Overture to Braut von Messina; Overture to Genoveva; Zwickau Symphony in G Minor: fragment; Overture, Scherzo and Finale in E Major – Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Oerebro/Thomas Dausgaard – BIS

by | Dec 26, 2009 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 38 “Spring”; Overture to Braut von Messina, Op. 100; Overture to Genoveva, Op. 81; Zwickau Symphony in G Minor: fragment; Overture, Scherzo and Finale in E Major, Op. 52 – Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Oerebro/Thomas Dausgaard  – BIS MultiChannel SACD 1569, 77:36 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

After the debacle of Robert Schumann’s “virtuoso piano” career, he settled upon his mission as a composer, turning to the creation of a Symphony in G Minor in 1832, to be performed in Zwickau, led by Friedrich Wieck. The surviving fragment, Moderato–Allegro, takes its cue from Beethoven, particularly from heraldic elements in the Eroica Symphony, utilizing three melodies that have an unfortunate way of ending full stop, at musical periods. The more successfully lyrical episodes sound like youthfully sinewy Dvorak.  There are moments in the winds and pizzicato strings that promise us colors that a more experienced orchestrator might fulfill.

The program (rec. 2005-2007) by the reduced forces of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra opens with the popular 1841 Spring Symphony, its imaginative impulse having been triggered by poet Alfred Boettger’s admonition, “O alter, alter your course,/In the valley spring is blooming.” The lighter instrumentation of the chamber orchestra reveals the transparency of the writing between low strings, tympani, and flute. No less influential in the running motives is the spirit of Schubert’s C Major Symphony, discovered by Schumann in 1838 while visiting Ferdinand Schubert. The portentous motive in the winds suddenly erupts into a ‘rite of spring,’ punctuated by ostinati in the strings and resounding trumpet and flute work. Clarinet and viola support the secondary theme in articulate phrases, the texture and propulsion mounting to a colossal confrontation with Pan.

The E-flat Major Larghetto owes debts to Beethoven, but the freshness and generosity of spirit carries us away. The early woodwind and string theme seems to trigger the Brahms Third Symphony’s opening motto. The level of orchestral discipline has improved considerably since the Zwickau experiment, especially in the writing for cellos, oboes, and horns. The closing chorale adumbrates moments in the Rhenish Symphony. The swaggering G Minor Scherzo establishes Schumann’s penchant for inserting two trios in varied rhythms. The second trio suggests a romantic union with the antique gavotte, here in sumptuous harmony. Lush scale passages dominate the last movement, which no less trips with most delicious aspirations to the pantheistic freedom announced by SCO’s brass section.

The 1841 Overture, Scherzo and Finale stands as Schumann’s second attempt to master symphonic form, yet it remains a kind of suite or pastiche in three relatively joyful movements. The E Minor Allegro moves to a chugging E Major, rife with syncopations and descending scales. Dausgaard captures its fanciful exuberant character, especially in the swooping arches from strings and woodwinds. Dausgaard emphasizes the dotted character of the 6/8 rhythm of the Scherzo in C-sharp Minor, its almost Viennese, gigue-like affect. The D-flat Major trio enjoys a sweetly lyrical treatment. Thrusting upbeats mark the Finale, which hastens, fugato, into its contrapuntal development of tiny motifs that swell to a vibrant apotheosis. The hints of the first movement theme confirm Beethoven’s Fifth and its cyclic structure as a dominant principle in Schumann’s creative ethos.

Dausgaard includes two concert overtures by Schumann: the 1851 C Minor Overture to Schiller’s Die Braut von Messina, and the 1850 Overture to Genoveva, after Tieck and Hebnel. The Bride of Messina Overture certainly possesses dramatic flair, much in the manner of Beethoven’s Coriolan. A sweet clarinet theme announces the reconciliation of the characters Don Manuel and Don Cesar with their mother, Donna Isabella. A potent fate motif, however, consumes all the principles, and the music ends in the jaws of C Minor.  I had never heard the Genoveva Overture until Leonard Bernstein’s CBS LP appeared in the late 1960s. Another work in C Minor, the progression Adagio–Appassionato, agitato conforms to the notion of the “rescue” opera, since Siegfried recognizes the plot to destroy the faithful Genoveva in time to establish a sunny C Major finale.

Even with reduced forces to realize Schumann’s romantic gestures, the surround sound medium leaves us refreshed with the colorful energies in the composer’s arsenal.

–Gary Lemco


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