Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Chamber Orchestra of Europe – Schumann: The Symphonies (2014)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Digital Booklet | 2.04 GB
Genre: Classical | Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz
For these revelatory performances – captured live at acclaimed concerts in Paris – he conducts the superb Chamber Orchestra of Europe, one of the world’s preeminent chamber orchestras. Taking a fresh perspective on familiar music, Yannick Nézet-Séguin challenges the conventional view on the composer’s symphonies.
“Of all the major symphonies, I’d say that Schumann’s are best performed by a slightly smaller ensemble… With a lean string section – not only in size, but also in its quality of playing – the music just works.”
The Canadian Maestro sees Schumann’s music as rooted in the bipolar nature of the composer’s troubled psyche, emphasising dramatic shifts of temperament – not only between movements but even within a single phrase
“He’s one of those composers whose personality is completely expressed in their music…those fluctuations between the melancholy and something very inward-looking are combined with a very manic kind of energy that wants to conquer the world. That’s what is so special about Schumann.”
This new cycle includes the second, revised version of Schumann’s second symphony, published as his Symphony No.4. “I try to respect whenever a composer makes a revision because he feels the need to, rather than because of any outside pressure. I’m personally convinced that the symphony’s message, and this feeling of one big movement, is better conveyed by the later version.”
This set is Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s first recording of a complete symphony cycle.
Composer: Robert Schumann
Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Orchestra/Ensemble: Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Deutsche Grammophon touts Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s new fast-and-light-textured Schumann symphony cycle as “revelatory”, but there are already several recordings (Harnoncourt, Dausgaard, Zinman, Norrington, to name a few) that take a similar approach. As you would expect, Nézet-Séguin whips a good deal of energy with his swift tempos and crisp phrasing, and his readings are notable for their timbral clarity, exposing lots of interesting inner detail, especially on the woodwinds (the COE brass, which needs no such help, sounds quite fine throughout).
But there’s more to Schumann than speed and clarity, and given that Nézet-Séguin began his career as a pianist, it’s surprising that he’s not especially sensitive to the music’s rubato and implied poetry. Bernstein, in comparison, plays these symphonies like piano music, employing a naturally-breathed ebb-and-flow (while conducting big-bands like the New York and Vienna Philharmonics).
Then there’s the frustratingly narrow dynamic range of the performances, partially the fault of the close-perspective recording, but also likely due to Nézet-Séguin’s need to balance the smallish string body with the other instrumental groups. This is not so much a problem in the bright and sunny Symphony No. 1 (the best performance in the set), and the more traditionally classical No. 2 (also pretty good, with well-sustained tension); but this method saps power and impact from No. 4, Schumann’s most emotionally-charged.
The conductor’s swift pacing and clear textures make No. 3’s (“Rhenish”) first movement sound a little less rambling than usual, and his deft handling of timbres makes the sombre fourth movement quite interesting. However, the sexless, so-called historically-informed string texture and articulation hinders rather than helps Schumann’s expressive intent, fostering an overall generalized quality that gives the sense that the performance is about Nézet-Séguin adhering to an aesthetic principle over everything else.
Likely, someone who’s never heard Schumann performed this way will find some aspects of this recording refreshing and enjoyable–at least initially. But in the long-run they’ll be better served, if this is the desired approach, by Zinman’s complete set which also offers swift, bracing tempos, but also retains the music’s tonal richness, subtlety, and emotional energy. All others should consider the reference recordings listed.
1. 1. Andante un poco maestoso Allegro molto vivace
2. 2. Larghetto attacca
3. 3. Scherzo. Molto vivace Trio I/II
4. 4. Allegro animato e grazioso
5. 1. Ziemlich langsam Lebhaft attacca
6. 2. Romanze. Ziemlich langsam attacca
7. 3. Scherzo. Lebhaft Trio attacca
8. 4. Langsam Lebhaft Schneller Presto
1. 1. Sostenuto assai Allegro, ma non troppo
2. 2. Scherzo. Allegro vivace
3. 3. Adagio espressivo
4. 4. Allegro molto vivace
5. 1. Lebhaft
6. 2. Scherzo. Sehr mäßig
7. 3. Nicht schnell
8. 4. Feierlich
9. 5. Lebhaft