Franz Konwitschny

Robert Schumann: The 4 Symphonies

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Old timers might try to convince you that Franz Konwitschny and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig early-'60s recordings of Schumann's symphonies are somehow better than not quite mediocre but don't believe them. They may say that Konwitschny made great recordings and point to his terrific Flying Dutchman as Exhibit A. They may say that the East German Gewandhaus was as fine an orchestra as the finest of its West German contemporaries and that its warm, burnished sound is ideally suited to Schumann's orchestral music. But while it's true Konwitschny did make great recordings, these aren't among them. His conducting here is brusque and his interpretations are unsympathetic at best. The exquisite poetry and the rapturous lyricism that are the hallmark of Schumann's music is missing from these performances. And while it's likewise true that the Gewandhaus was and is a great German orchestra, its playing here is anything but great. It's superbly executed, of course, but it wholly lacks sensitivity to Schumann's idiosyncratic scoring, and the result is cool and impersonal playing. On top of that, even as a co-production with Philips, Berlin Classics' stereo recordings are dull, distant, and dismal. There are dozens of great stereo cycles of Schumann's symphonies -- try Szell's with the Cleveland for strongly symphonic performances, Kubelík's with the Berlin Philharmonic for freshly lyrical performances, or Sawallisch's with the Dresden Staatskapelle for deeply romantic performances -- but not this one.

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