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Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4 - Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, François-Xavier Roth

Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4 - Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, François-Xavier Roth

Myrios  MYR028

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Robert Schumann: Symphony No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 38 "Spring", Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120

Gürzenich-Orchester Köln
François-Xavier Roth


The year 1841 finally marked Robert Schumann’s breakthrough as a composer for orchestra. That year, he created no less than two works: his First Symphony, also known as the “Spring Symphony”, and a piece which he initially planned as a "Symphonic Fantasy" in one movement, and which would later become his Symphony in D Minor.

The Spring Symphony was composed in the coldest winter. Full of longing, it is a work that knows only one direction: growing, blossoming, the path to light and new life. The Symphony in D minor seems much more somber and intimate, “a work from the innermost depths of his soul”, as Clara Schumann noted in her diary. However, the audience could not warm up to this bold, impetuous work, and Schumann set it aside. Ten years later, after a major revision, he published it as his 4th Symphony.

This album pairs the Spring Symphony with the original version of the Symphony in D minor, the version which friends such as Johannes Brahms preferred over the later edition. Schumann never heard it again in his lifetime, and it was not until 1889 that it was performed in public once more, by the Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne under the baton of Franz Wüllner.

François-Xavier Roth, the Gürzenich Orchestra’s current chief conductor, also prefers the original version. With its leaner orchestration, it is certainly the more radical one, and thus requires a higher degree of commitment from the orchestra musicians in forming crescendi, melodic phrases, and extended arcs of formal development.

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Reviews (1)

Review by Adrian Quanjer - August 15, 2020

If a quality label like myrios classics reappears on this site with a new SACD release we must be very pleased indeed. A couple of years ago many if not all of us, including me, were sad to see myrios shifting to download only. Not because of quality concerns. Most of us are well aware that a download site like Native DSD certifies that all source material is either in DSD or DXD. It may sound trivial, but the real reason seems to be that the kind of music lovers that gather around HRAudio.net prefer a physical product that they can touch and listen to, whilst reading the usually extensive and instructive liner notes.

That labels turn to download is, as we all know by now, not new. And we have to respect their commercial considerations. However, from a myrios press bulletin, we learn that this new SACD release is not a one-off. It is a “first collaboration between the Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne, François-Xavier Roth and the myrios classics label” and “released as a limited edition on SACD”. We may, therefore, assume that in the years to come more will follow.

I won’t pretend that it fills a much-needed gap in the catalogue. Yet, I’m optimistic about this one finding its way among classical music lovers alongside other notable releases. It has several trump cards up its sleeve that some of the others cannot match or don’t have at all. Firstly, Symphony no. 4 is, like only a few other recordings, played in its original version; a version particularly appreciated by contemporaries like Johannes Brahms. Secondly, both symphonies were recorded during live performances, having the advantage of the emotional interrelation between musicians and the audience. Thirdly, they are played by a medium-large orchestral force, which will please many listeners who don’t like lean chamber versions, whether they be HIP or not. Fourthly, it is the fruit of a unique amalgamation of the sparkling and enthusiastic views of a French Chef and the staunch tradition of a great German ensemble.

Schumann’s first symphony was written in the coldest month of the year 1841 surely in anticipation of and longing for spring to arrive. Its first movement “Spring’s Awakening” is not just about lilies of the valley and buttercups in the meadow. Supported with a large complement of brass (4 horns, 2 trumpets, and 3 trombones) it is a combination of rain and shine, as the orchestra’s journey through the movements makes clear. That said, one may ask “Is spring in France different from spring in Germany?” One quickly becomes aware that François-Xavier Roth feels that it is so. His directing is not only precise, but it also has an inspiring and even ‘dancing’ directness putting accents in places where I did not expect them, lending the Spring Symphony a kind of surprising, yet authoritative vigour, shunning any heaviness some larger orchestras are prone to deliver in this kind of romantic repertoire. Roth turns the stormy weather in the final movement into an exciting May shower with clear expectations for the birds to reappear singing in the wet sunshine. The best of two worlds? I think so.

The fat plum is, of course, the fourth in its original form, ”Fantaisie symphonique”. It is said, that first ideas are not necessarily the worst. Brahms concurred openly. Nevertheless, most recordings are based on the final 1851 version. Of the few original accounts in the Hi-res catalogue we have (BIS): Schumann: Symphonies 3 & 4 - Dausgaard played by a chamber orchestra with a complement of 38 musicians, and a large scale (LSO Live): Schumann: Symphonies 2 & 4 - Gardiner. In this recording, the Cologne orchestra covers the middle ground with around 58 musicians.

As the orchestration for the brass and woodwind is fixed, with notably strong brass, similar to the first, the numbers have a direct bearing on the overall balance. More wind means fewer strings. Schumann is often thought to have difficulty when orchestrating his compositional ideas, and I think that it is largely true for his solo concerti. But in his symphonic output, he proves the opposite, provided the direction is in the right hands. Compared to the ‘slow motion’ account of MTT and the San Francisco Symphony (SFS Media boxed set), undoubtedly welcomed in traditional circles, Roth brings articulated air into each of the four movements, comparable to Dausgaard’s and Gardiner’s readings.

Roth meticulously unravels the darker aspects of Schumann’s complex character, hidden in the minor key scored passages - in complete contrast to triumphant positivity of the “Spring Symphony”, composed in the same year - dusting off the score into obtaining greater transparency, without robbing it of its compelling impact. In doing so, he demonstrates the ‘rapport’ he has built with his musicians, ably following his twists and turns to arrive at a common reading of prime quality.

As said, there are other Schumann symphonies around equally bursting with highly spirited performances. But Roth & Co have something the competition has not, or to a lesser degree: The recorded quality. This release is not a PCM upgrade. The original recording was made in DXD, 352.8 kHz/24 bit, and with the right reproduction equipment the result is ‘bluffant’.

With this release, myrios classics have put the Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne under its current Music Director, François-Xavier Roth (since 2017 also Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra!) firmly on the map. A winning team. We should keep an open eye and keen interest in what is to follow in the years ahead.

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2020 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (15)

Comment by breydon_music - August 15, 2020 (1 of 15)

Adrian, with apologies in advance that for me it generally matters, does this recording have applause?

Comment by hiredfox - August 15, 2020 (2 of 15)

Thank you Adrian for a most entertaining and absorbing essay. By the way I am a fan of the inclusion of audience reaction especially when live performance is being captured.

In these somewhat dark days of lockdown, meltdown and despondency any contact with other people - socially distanced of course - is most welcome even if only in electronic form.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - August 15, 2020 (3 of 15)

There is good news and bad news. The good news is: No applause; the bad news is: No applause.

But.. John, the good news for you is: The recorded quality. And that will be the same for all that myrios classics will dish up next.

An afterthought. Follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRoI96nf910 and there will be heaps of applause. And if you look a little further: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN-tLM7vFvg

Comment by Stephan Cahen - August 18, 2020 (4 of 15)

Guys, as the recording producer and engineer of the album, let me say that I really thought about including the applause at the end, because I like this to do. But I was getting a bloody nose when I did it the last time with the album "The Gershwin Moment" on myrios (MYR022), which really captures the reaction by the audience. The live concert performance in St. Louis was so overwhelming that people even applauded after the first movement of Gershwin's piano concerto, and the conductor David Robertson turned around, addressed them and said "DonÄt worry, we're still going to play the other two movements!". Laughter, applause... You really could feel the audience, and their reaction when the pianist Kirill Gerstein announced the encore is priceless. That really feels like being part of the performance. Being there! But as we also have to think about other, "lo-res" ways of distribution, namely streaming, the message from Apple and Spotify is clear: Add applause, and you won't get your tracks on any playlist. Sure, I could have added the applause only in the multichannel mix, but then the discussion would have started again like "why are the playing times different? Is there extra bonus content in the MC mix?". It is strange how much the modern way of music distribution and the listening behavior of many people has affected our way of production. Earlier this year, I did a recording for Warner Classics, and one of the several technical requirements was NOT to put a roomtone ("silence" from the recording venue) in the master, but to separate all tracks by digital 0. The concept of listening to an entire album seems more and more insignificant. Good that people like you guys take care about that. Thanks for all your comments. And thanks, Adrian, for this very charming review! Take care and stay healthy, Stephan

Stephan Cahen, producer/label manager myrios classics

Comment by hiredfox - August 19, 2020 (5 of 15)

Thank you Stephan for your feedback and bringing us so much valuable insight. So very much appreciated.

Comment by DYB - August 20, 2020 (6 of 15)

Thank you Stephan, very interesting. And disappointing to hear that Warner wanted 0 silence instead of room tone. This can be very noticeable when listening on headphones and it drives me nuts! I accept it on older recordings, but to force it on a modern recording seems bizarre.

Comment by Stephan Cahen - August 20, 2020 (7 of 15)

Oh, I didn't want to blame Warner, it's all major and many bigger indies who are now going down that route. It's all for the sake of getting one or more of the tracks into a playlist. So, digital 0 between the tracks, music must start within the first second, quick fade outs, no applause. That's the recipe.

Comment by breydon_music - August 21, 2020 (8 of 15)

Well one delighted punter here very much looking forward to the new disc's arrival. I applaud Myrios for tipping a toe back in the physical SACD water - perhaps the limited edition route would work for other companies who have backed out of SACD production? It's also good to see this orchestra back on SACD - their Mahler cycle under Stenz a few years back showed what a top rate ensemble they were / are. I was always very sorry that their ensuing Rachmaninov symphony cycle was issued after Oehms had backed out of SACD - I would have thought that that would have filled a major hi-res gap if it had made it to SACD.

Comment by john hunter - August 23, 2020 (9 of 15)

Will certainly be ordering this once post services are better.
Still awaiting an order from Presto sent 6 weeks ago.

Comment by hiredfox - August 24, 2020 (10 of 15)

Some countries are coping better than others. The USPS seems to be in all sorts of trouble recently. Some goods took 9 weeks to reach me after despatch.

Comment by john hunter - August 25, 2020 (11 of 15)

That's given me some hope that the order will eventually get here Bruce.
Fingers crossed!!

Comment by Stephan Cahen - August 28, 2020 (12 of 15)

@john hunter: Yes, there are currently problems to ship to the US for all countries, I guess. We currently also can't fulfill orders from the USA in our webstore. The German postal service blames it to the USPS, of course. Hope you will soon get your copy. Meanwhile I think that ordering through amazon.com (sorry!) or arkivmusic.com works.

Comment by Stephan Cahen - August 28, 2020 (13 of 15)

@breydon_music: Thank you very much for this kind statement. Yes, our current Schumann edition is a test run as a linited edition on SACD. There are currently two big problems with manufacturing SACDs (as already reported some years back). The price for the initial print run is actually not that much higher than for a CD-Audio, at least compared to a bigger booklet or a packaging that differs from a plastic jewelbox (high quality paper and non-standard packaging costs a fortune). But when reprinting only a couple of hundreds copies, it becomes 2-3x the price for the disc. So, a limited first run on SACD is probably the way to go for some special projects. Another thing is that there are only two manufacturers left (worldwide) for hybrid SACDs, Sonopress Germany and Sony DADC Austria. There still seems to be an SACD plant (SHM discs) in Japan, which does non-hybrid SACDs. These companies are highly professional, but a small problem with the replication process can cause long delays, as there are no spare parts for the pressing machines available anymore. We encounter these problems quite often, and this causes a lot of trouble. This kind of unreliability is something one has to keep in mind, and it calls for a lot of patience, which is usually difficult in our business. In the end, manufacturing CDs is cheaper, faster and more reliable. But makes less fun to listen to, I agree.

Comment by breydon_music - August 29, 2020 (14 of 15)

Stephan, many thanks for taking the time to share these insights with us. On the old site (sa-cd.net) we used to have regular dialogue with Robert at BIS which served to achieve a useful balance between the business and the enjoyment of music. These comments do too. I knew that SACD manufacturing facilities were limited but had no idea that the situation had become so precarious. I wish you well with the success of this and other projects, and am looking forward to Presto sending me the first disc very soon.

Comment by john hunter - November 20, 2020 (15 of 15)

A lovely disc and highly recommended.
The recording gives an excellent 3D image with naturalistic detailing right-left as well as front back.
Just the way I like it!
Add fine performances from a conductor who knows his way around these charming scores and this disc is one of the nicest surprises in this awful year.