Roger Norrington

Schumann: Symphonies No. 2 & No. 4

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Having trained the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR to play in a manner approximating historically informed performance practices -- that is, with little vibrato and no glissando, with détaché bowing and staccato blowing -- the next thing Roger Norrington has to do is to teach the group to play with sensitivity and sympathy. However, in this coupling of Schumann's Second and Fourth symphonies, Norrington and the SWR appear determined not to invest anything of themselves in the performances. The Second, a work that balances incredible optimism with inescapable pessimism, sounds lighthearted, indeed, lightheaded. The glowering shadows of the opening Sostenuto and the heavy melancholy of the central Adagio espressivo have less gloom than a rainy day in June and the glowing power of the Scherzo and the radiant joy of the closing Allegro molto vivace have less life than a party after 4 a.m.. The Fourth, an ad astra per aspera symphony formed in the Beethovenian mold, hardly sounds difficult and even less driven to reach the stars. The fuliginous darkness of the opening Andante con moto and the expectant dawn of the Largo introduction to the Finale have less weight than a Twinkie and the intimate happiness of the Romanza and the exuberant energy of the Finale itself have less substance then the aforementioned snack cake. And it doesn't help matters that Norrington mangles the rhythms in the transitions in the first and last movements. For great recordings of the Second and Fourth done in a manner approximating historically informed performances practice, try Roy Goodman's stylish and soulful performances with the Hanover Band. And for the greatest recording of the Fourth ever made, by all means try Furtwängler's unrelievedly driven and overwhelmingly intense recording. Hänssler's sound is so clear and clean it's virtually empty.

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