Christian Zacharias / Lausanne Chamber Orchestra

Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 4

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Christian Zacharias' recording of Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, with the Chamber Orchestra of Lausanne (and Zacharias as pianist and conductor) has inspired drastically divergent reactions, and this album with Zacharias at the baton will be no different. It is apparently to be followed by a second album with the other two Schumann symphonies, so the supply of grist for the controversy mill will continue. Zacharias' readings of the Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61, and Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120, are revisionist interpretations that are in their way as surprising as the early Bach recordings issuing from the historical-performance movement. It's not that Zacharias uses historical instruments, although the small size and transparent textures of the chamber orchestra arguably come closer to Schumann's intentions than did the likes of Karajan at the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic. The shock lies in the phrasing; the two symphonies lie, to borrow a phrase, atomized upon a table. Climaxes are ruthlessly scaled back, the momentum of string passages is tightly controlled, and textures are opened up to reveal the wind writing (whose loss in conventional performances is part of the reason Schumann's symphonies are criticized by some) and above all the cyclic structure, the building of the piece over a continuous motivic flow, of both works, but especially the Symphony No. 4. The reading of that work fits with the ongoing reevaluation of Schumann's late works as daring and innovative, and if you were looking for a middle ground between hating and loving this kind of Schumann, you might note that under Zacharias you truly do hear things in the Symphony No. 4 that aren't revealed elsewhere. The usual fine sound from the MDG label, recorded in the Métropole in Lausanne, is another plus, and it fits the artistic aims of this recording very well. Vive la difference!

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