Philippe Herreweghe / Orchestre des Champs-Élysées

Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3

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It is amazing how many times people have fallen for the "Schumann was a lousy orchestrator" line. It seems like every 10 years or so, some conductor will release recordings of Schumann's symphonies that promise to reveal the true inner beauty of the music by retouching the orchestration or by redistributing the balances or by stressing the accents or by emphasizing the tempos. And it almost always works. Many critics and listeners seem to hear Schumann's music as if for the first time, and are consistently blown away by its true inner beauty.

The least remarkable thing about this 2006 recording with Philippe Herreweghe leading the Orchestre des Champs Élysées in Schumann's First and Third symphonies is that it's managed to use the "lousy orchestrator" line as a straw man one more time. Even this approach -- Schumann only sounds lousy when played on modern instruments; on period instruments he sounds just fine -- has been used before by conductors like Roger Norrington and John Eliot Gardiner. The most remarkable thing is that, once again, it works. Herreweghe's rhythmic energy and poetic imagination and the Champs Élysées orchestra's burnished colors and tonal opulence do make Schumann's Spring and Rhenish symphonies sound fresh, powerful, and persuasive. While these might not be the most Germanic performances ever recorded -- don't expect the weight and gravity of a Klemperer -- they may be the most Romantic -- do expect passion, fantasy, and even eccentricity. Recorded in clear, full digital sound by Harmonia Mundi, this disc should be heard by anyone who loves the composer, whatever people may already think of his abilities as orchestrator.

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