Schumann Symphonies 1-4 Thielemann Staatskapelle Dresden
Nos. 1– 4
Thielemann, cond; Staatskapelle Dresden
19075943412 (2 CDs: 140:00)
Christian Thielemann will know what to expect from this Schumann symphony
cycle—big orchestral textures, steady but fluid tempos, and a general feeling
of old-school values from a conductor who has never worried about keeping up
with the latest trends.
Thielemann’s second traversal of the Schumann symphonies. His first was with
the Philharmonia and released on DG in the late 90s and early 2000s. His conception
of these works hasn’t changed in the intervening years, but his interpretations
have matured. The sense of line that characterizes his best work is now much
more in evidence, and while both cycles tend towards slower tempos, Thielemann
is now able to maintain a sense of coherency, especially across Schumann’s
often protracted transitions, that was conspicuously lacking with the
Philharmonia. He is also able to subtly weigh accents—through a combination of
minute delay and emphatic attack—to better punctuate the flow and vary the
But is that
enough? For the most part, yes, these are readings that generally add up, so
long as you are amenable to Thielemann’s expanse and unapologetically Romantic
approach. The combination of heavy accents and slow tempos works best in
movements with long, flowing melodies over busy accompaniments, like the second
movement of the First Symphony or the first movement of the Third. Slower
movements are more variable, and Thielemann doesn’t always achieve the quiet
and mysterious effect that Schumann is looking for: It works in the opening of
the Second Symphony, where we get a real sense of atmosphere, but not in the
introduction to the Fourth Symphony finale, which is too slow and falls flat.
Similarly, the scherzos often lack punch, the music too slow and with not
enough accenting: The scherzos of the First and Fourth Symphonies just feel too
relaxed all round.
however, the Fourth Symphony gives the most satisfaction. Thielemann finds the
sweet spot between rhythm and flow in the first movement main theme, and the
sense of drive here is exhilarating. So, too, the finale, the Langsam opening lugubrious, but the main
theme, when it arrives, immediately rising the music-making to another level.
were made at Suntory Hall in Tokyo in 2018, and may be live: Pictures in the
liner show Thielemann in the orchestra performing to an audience, but no
mention is made of these being live performances. If they are, that may explain
some slight ensemble issues. The First Symphony finale gets off to a shaky start,
for example. The players soon find their feet, but another take would certainly
have been preferable. On the other hand, there is often a relaxed feel about
these readings that suggests a sense of easy communication between players and
audience. So, for example, in the second movement of the Third Symphony, the
exchanges between the strings and woodwind find the two groups slightly askew,
but it is not a huge problem, or even a fault as such, so much as a daringly
casual approach to ensemble.
The sound quality
is good but not great, the orchestra well balanced but lacking immediacy. The
second violins sit to the right, well separated in the stereo array, and all
the clearer for it. The timpani sound is a bit dull, especially compared to the
incisive playing from the Philharmonia’s timpanist in Thielemann’s previous
cycle. If you are already a fan of Thielemann, then you will probably find much
to enjoy here. If you are not, then his many recordings of Bruckner or
Beethoven may a better place to start, or better yet his Wagner or Strauss.
This review appears in Fanfare magazine issue 43:1.
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