SCHUMANN Symphonies Nos 1-4
What blessed times these are for Schumannistas. Hard on the heels not only of Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s compelling survey of the four symphonies but also of Sir Simon Rattle’s sumptuously packaged own-label-launching set comes this one from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Robin Ticciati, a team that has already proved itself admirably on disc in Berlioz (5/12, 6/13). Ticciati follows Nézet-Séguin’s lead in opting for the 1851 revision of the Fourth Symphony rather than the sparer 1841 version selected by Rattle, and it is to the Canadian’s offering that the new set bears the greater similarity.
Clarity has been a common feature of recent recordings of Schumann’s orchestral music, giving the lie yet again to the old canard about his cack-handed orchestral abilities. Here, close reading of the score combines with Philip Hobbs’s transparent surround-sound engineering (Perth Concert Hall last November and December) in a recording teeming with revealing detail. Ticciati clearly knows how he wants this music to go and his strong partnership with the Edinburgh players enables him to shape readings notable for their energy and individuality. The Fourth receives a particularly forceful performance, with go-ahead tempi combining with its bolstered orchestration to demonstrate how the earlier version was but a transitory stage in the work’s evolution. In the Second, too, Ticciati shows how this is the most uneasy expression of the key of C major, the final songful peroration hard-won through the obsessions of the earlier movements.
Throughout, the performances are characterised by a woodwind sweetness that is becoming a trademark of this orchestra. The timpanist uses hard sticks to cut through the texture at strategic moments and brass are doleful or stentorian as required. Strings, of the order 10 8 6 5 3, are perhaps not as lissom (in fleeter movements such as the Scherzo of the Second) as the COE for Nézet-Séguin or the Swedish CO for Thomas Dausgaard (whose three-disc set contains both versions of the Fourth and a more complete collection of orchestral works). This is an extremely likeable and beautifully recorded traversal, worthy of standing alongside any of its recent competitors. On a personal level, though, for me Nézet-Séguin just about shades it for the very special sense of joy exuded by his Paris performances. Nevertheless, the new discs give almost equal pleasure and are sure to be invoked in future lists of comparisons.