Schumann: Symphony No. 1 - Dausgaard

Schumann: Symphony No. 1 - Dausgaard


Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Symphony No. 1 in B flat major Op. 38 "Spring Symphony"
Overture to Schiller’s "Braut von Messina" Op. 100
Overture to the opera "Genoveva" Op. 81
Symphony in G minor "Zwickau Symphony" (1832)
Overture, Scherzo and Finale Op. 52

Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Thomas Dausgaard (conductor)

This disc includes Schumann’s very first endeavours in the symphony genre, beginning with the Zwickau Symphony from 1832-33. Of the two completed movements, only the first was ever performed in the composer’s lifetime. That is also the one recorded here, performed from a copy of the manuscript score. (The autograph score of the second, slow movement exists in private ownership, but a readily performable original material has yet to be produced.)

Almost ten years after the ‘Zwickau’, Schumann finally completed a symphony, the ‘Spring Symphony’. Inspired by a poem by Adolf Böttger, Schumann nevertheless dispensed with the original movement titles before the symphony was published. Composed in the same year as Symphony No. 1, the Overture, Scherzo and Finale to some extent also belongs to Schumann’s symphonic oeuvre – a divertimento-like sequence of movements, which Schumann actually offered to a publisher as his ‘second symphony’, with the comment that it differed ‘from the form of a symphony in that it is also possible to play the individual movements separately’. The programme is completed by two overtures: one composed for Genoveva (Schumann’s only opera) and the other for Schiller’s tragedy ‘The Bride of Messina’.

The present disc is part of a recording project entitled Opening Doors, in which Thomas Dausgaard and the 38 players of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra together explore the Romantic symphonic repertoire. This project will include a complete Schumann Symphony cycle, of which this disc forms part. The first volume – which included the original version of Symphony No. 4 – was greeted with acclaim by the critics, receiving special recommendations from the German website Klassik Heute and from BBC Music Magazine. The website gave the verdict ‘With this wonderful recording, Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra catapult into the very top of the list of excellent Schumann interpreters’, while the reviewer in Sunday Times (UK) deemed the playing to be ‘first-rate’ with ‘a real feeling for the emotional extremes that are at the heart of Schumann’s art.’

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PCM recording

Recorded in March 2005 (Overture, Scherzo and Finale), in October 2006 (Zwickau Symphony), in December 2006 (Braut von Messina; Genoveva) and in August 2007 (Symphony No.1) at the Örebro Concert Hall, Sweden, 24/44.1

Recording producers: Jens Braun (Symphony No.1; Braut von Messina; Genoveva; Overture, Scherzo and Finale); Marion Schwebel (Zwickau Symphony) (both Take5 Music Production)

Sound engineers: Thore Brinkmann (Take5 Music Production) (Symphony No.1; Braut von Messina; Genoveva; Overture, Scherzo and Finale); Martin Nagorni (Zwickau Symphony)

Digital editing: Bastian Schick, Nora Brandenburg, Christian Starke

Recording equipment: Neumann microphones; StageTec Truematch microphone preamplifier and high-resolution A/D converter; MADI optical cabling; Yamaha 02R96 digital mixer; Sequoia Workstation; Pyramix DSD Workstation; B&W Nautilus 802 loudspeakers; STAX headphones

Executive producer: Robert Suff
Part of the Opening Doors series.
Reviews (1)

Review by John Miller - February 21, 2008

Here is another issue in the BIS 'Open Doors' project, in which Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra seek to reappraise selected Romantic works. This includes all the Schumann symphonies, Disc One of which has already received general critical claim (Schumann: Symphonies 2 & 4 - Dausgaard). Dausgaard returns these works to their rightful context, with a small modern instrument orchestra whose strings play with sparing vibrato, natural trumpets and hard sticks for the timpani. This is not a new idea, of course; several chamber orchestra versions have been recorded, as well as symphony cycles from period instrument groups. However, this is the first time such an approach has appeared on SACD, and the high-definition sound is certainly revelatory.

Personally, I have never found the Early Romantic Schumann symphonies convincing when garbed in the fineries and slower tempi of the Late Romantic, particularly in slow movements. Dausgaard's disc of Symphonies 2 and 4, however, did open the door for me, and I enjoyed the performances greatly. His direct, vigorous approach opens up the sometimes clogged textures which latterly earned Schumann a reputation as a poor orchestrator.

Schumann, composer of lieder and would-be concert pianist, began his symphonic career in 1832 as a result of a personal catastrophe. In his diary he refers to the 'laming' of his right hand from too much playing and writing (the commonly cited injury by a stretching device is probably apocryphal). A mere five years after Beethoven's death, he decided he would have to embark on composing symphonies, and so began his first. It was performed and revised, but Schumann lost interest in symphonies until 1840-1850. Dausgaard plays its first movement from Schumann's manuscript as a fragment. Performance material for the other movements is sparse (although several 'completions' have been recorded. This piece, the so-called 'Zwickau' Symphony, is of interest in that it shows Schumann agonising under the heavy burden of Beethoven's legacy - what now should be the the direction of symphonic composition? One can hear allusions to several Beethoven symphonies as well as his own music.

The overtures on the disc are not, it has to be said, of great substance; even with Dausgaard's passionate advocacy and the SCO's brilliant playing, their material is not very distinguished and they do not linger in the mind. Nevertheless, they add to our understanding of Schumann and we should be grateful for their inclusion.

The 'Spring Symphony' is given a suitably vernal performance, with incisive strings and crisp brass. Again one is reminded very much of Beethoven in its gestures and fondness of short motives rather than fully-developed melodies. With Dausgaard's vigorous approach I felt that there was a touch too much emphasis on the first beat of the bar of the first movement, which kept it a little earth-bound. The slow movement's opening melody is restful but flowing, its simplicity anhanced by the sparing vibrato of the violins. 'Sparkling' would be a good epithet for the Finale, with its Mendelssohnian lightness and headlong rush to the final chord.

The vivid playing on this disc is matched by its engineering. Although I felt that the ambience of the Õrebro Concert Hall was rather dry, the sound is akin to a fine etching, full of detail and stark relief. The lower strings are particularly impressive in this hall. The clarity of sound somehow adds to the impression of an early Romantic orchestra and also emphasises the associations with Beethoven in the music itself.

For lovers of the Schumann symphonies, I would suggest they try this disc; I think they will find it does indeed 'Open Doors'.

Copyright © 2008 John Miller and


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