Karl-Heinz Steffens / Rheinland-Pfalz Staatsphilharmonie

Schumann: Symphonies

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Karl-Heinz Steffens conducts the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz in this double SACD package of the four symphonies of Robert Schumann, giving them fresh and vital renditions that help to counter the music's reputation for thickness. Aside from their abundant musical merits, Schumann's symphonies suffer from their homogenized orchestration, mainly in the excessive doubling of winds and strings, and conductors must approach them with caution and sensitivity to achieve better clarity of parts and sectional balance. Steffens adjusts the dynamics and timbres to air out Schumann's dense textures, particularly in the Symphony No. 4, and the music benefits from his care in emphasizing different lines in the counterpoint, to alleviate aural fatigue. The hybrid SACD format adds even more depth and variety, because the multichannel recording situates the instruments more precisely than stereo, and the spaciousness of the sound opens up the ensemble considerably. In terms of speed, the symphonies are played at conventional tempos and Steffens maintains a steady pace with little rubato, putting the performances well in the mainstream. While this set is not especially revolutionary, it does make Schumann's music much more colorful and attractive, and listeners who are looking for a clear-sounding cycle should give it a try.

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