John Eliot Gardiner / London Symphony Orchestra

Schumann: Symphonies Nos 2 & 4

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On its face, this 2019 release by John Eliot Gardiner and the London Symphony Orchestra seems fairly straightforward and standard, with an overture at the opening and two symphonies by the great Romantic composer Robert Schumann occupying the rest of the program. Yet listeners may consider that it is far from routine on further investigation. The overture to Genoveva is the only part of Schumann's 1850 opera that is regularly performed nowadays, though it remains relatively obscure when compared to other overtures that serve to open concerts. Heard more frequently, the Symphony No. 2 in C major has had a fairly stable performance history, though like Schumann's other symphonies, it hasn't achieved the status of greatness accorded to the symphonies of Beethoven or Brahms, and remains in the second tier of 19th century symphonies. The Symphony No. 4 in D minor, however, may startle listeners who were expecting the long-established version of 1851. Instead, Gardiner has chosen the original 1841 version, which Clara Schumann described as unfinished sketches, but which Brahms favored over the revised version and revealed it to be complete when he published it in 1891. Chronologically, this was actually Schumann's second symphony, though it was first published after the two intervening symphonies and became the Fourth by default. Schumann's leaner orchestration has not been smoothed over or thickened with the later excessive doublings of woodwinds and strings, and while the form is almost identical to the later version, experienced listeners should note the many differences which are evident in this reading. The live recording by LSO Live captures the orchestra's sound with great clarity and fine details, which certainly makes Schumann's richly scored music easier to follow with pleasure.

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