Philippe Herreweghe / Orchestre des Champs-Élysées

Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 4

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The most important characteristic of Philippe Herreweghe's conducting surely must be his exceptional sense of balance, honed to perfection through years of directing choirs and instrumental ensembles of varying numbers, and now shown in his recordings of the nineteenth century symphonic repertoire. Perhaps no composer's music requires more attention to balance than Schumann's, and his four symphonies are among the least expertly orchestrated of the great symphonies, despite the excellence of his music in all other respects. Herreweghe draws fine distinctions in the orchestra, marking out lines that need emphasis and minimizing the effect of Schumann's excessive doublings through judicious use of dynamics. The Symphony No. 2 in C major may strike the listener as much-improved in this nuanced reading, but the problematic Symphony No. 4 in D minor -- often played with muddy textures and uniform dynamics -- will seem newly re-orchestrated, so great are the differences in Herreweghe's subtly shaded rendition. Yet the fresh sonorities come from his discretion, not from any revision, and the Champs Elysées Orchestra, playing period instruments, is completely responsive and clear, particularly in the woodwinds and brass. This 2004 release in the Musique d'abord series offers fine sound and good value, even without the other two symphonies.

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