Michael Gielen / SWR Baden-Baden and Freiburg Symphony Orchestra

Robert Schumann: Sinfonien Nr. 2 & 3

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There are plenty of recordings of Robert Schumann's symphonies that seem washed over by the composer's violin-heavy orchestration and that completely fail to take wing. You wouldn't necessarily look to a reading by a regional German orchestra, led by an octogenarian conductor, for a fresh take, but both of the symphonies here are first-rate. This isn't an album conceptualized as a whole but rather a joining-together of recordings made eight years apart: the Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 97, "Rhenish," was recorded live in Freiburg in 2002, while the performance of the Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61, splices together two different recording sessions from different locations. You can hear the sonic joints. But engineering legerdemain aside, these are exquisitely crafted readings. Conductor Michael Gielen, leading the Orchestra of the Southwest German Radio, paints a canvas full of small accents and instrumental details, drawing back the first violin line where necessary but not losing the long-range melodic line. Everything coheres into performances with real momentum in the outer movements, and the overall impression is that sweating the details is what's necessary to really make these works cook. The Symphony No. 2, with its studio recordings, is the stronger of the two performances; apparently the purpose of all the splicing was to get each little gear of this tricky but powerful engine in place. It's an exceptional application of long life experience. Booklet notes are in German and English.

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