Robert Schumann The Symphonies

  For some reason, of all the great Composers in the Romantic era, Schumann’s symphonies have been considered fair game for tinkering.  Gustav Mahler attempted full scale rewrites, although what he published ultimately was somewhat less ambitious.  Conductors such as Szell and Toscanini , who would certainly fret about even a minor change in a Beethoven score, felt licensed to hack away at them.  The common notion was the Schumann, who was such a harmonic innovator in his Piano Music, was sort of an idiot savant when it came to orchestration and that he needed “help”.  Some increased his textures, others tried to prune them.

  It was the original instrument movement that first put a pin in this balloon.  Schumann’s textures seemed to gain in clarity.  More recent small orchestras playing modern instruments began to realize the same advantages, without some of the less than beautiful sounds that the more dogmatic HIPP players tend to produce.

  Yet Schumann wasn’t a miniaturist, and these smaller scaled versions could sell some of his grandeur short, particularly in the Rhenish and the Fourth.

  Lately I’ve been taken with an older set that is hiding in plain view, and doesn’t get much love from contemporary critics, and that is Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic on Deutche Grammophone.  HvK May tinker a bit here and there, but to my ears he sounds a lot less interventionist than others.  More importantly he seems to relish the music and he finds more instrumental color than any other version.  My only quibble is the last movement of the Fourth where he seems to spend to much time luxuriating in the tunes and loses a bit of drive, but overall it’s a great set.  We tend to take the superlative virtues of HvK and the BPO for granted, but this is a perfect corrective.

  My current small orchestra favorite is Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra on the BIS label.  The DSD recording lets us hear into bottom of Schumann’s glorious well, and Dausgaard has a very clear vision for each work and is very exciting 


I've recently bought the CD box set of the symphonies played  by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. It should be an interesting listen!

The Szell set was my first, back in the seventies. My system wasn’t much then but those Columbia Odyssey discs had a really boxy, claustrophobic feel Very harsh treble and bloated bass. I had read that Szell, who was a control freak, was very interventionist at the mixing console, and as I mentioned earlier he was notorious for reorchestrating Schumann. When the CDs were released they sounded vastly improved, and I read an article suggesting that the engineers had gone back to the original tapes prior to Szell tinkering with them. I still find Szell hard driven-Schumann isn’t Beethoven—but there is a pretty thrilling Rhenish in that set

I must say that with Furtwangler the 4 th symphony impacted me so much... It is one of the best classical work for me ever recorded ...It deliver the "soul" of schumann, his obsession , his despair, his desire to stay "conscious"... It is really for me one of the greatest recording i ever listened to including anything i love..

For this fourth i cannot even listen ,even if i try, any other version...

Then apart for the fourth , i vouch for Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra... Great recommendation... It seems very promising also with Mendelsshon...

Thanks to the OP...