Reviews: Schumann: The Four Symphonies - Sawallisch
|Site review by akiralx July 31, 2012
|One of the finest of all Schumann symphony cycles is here given a new lease of life in EMI Japan's hybrid stereo three SACD set. One more disc than the EMI Great Recordings of the Century incarnation - but unlike that set, here the Manfred Overture is included.
Sonically this set is marginally but clearly finer than the GROC set which itself is very enjoyable. The soundstage now is a tad wider, but the sounds is also noticeably cleaner with no real tape background and greater presence. The brass in the opening pages of the Spring symphony have a tangible rasp which isn't really present in the RBCD set. I listened to a Sony SACD player via my Stax earspeaker system. Generally the richness of the Lukaskirche acoustic is maintained but with more spacious clarity.
I had always valued the Spring and Rhenish symphonies above all from this set, considering them the finest ever recorded, but I had forgotten how vigorously Sawallisch shapes the opening movement of the Fourth (in its usual revised version), the companion to the Spring on disc one. This compares very favourably to Harnoncourt's live Berlin account on Teldec which has been my first choice for a few years.
The strings play beautifully throughout the entire set, of course, with ideal warmth and clarity - in fact Sawallisch's autobiography was entitled 'For the Sake of Clarity'. Similarly the brass fanfares about three minutes into the opening movement of the Second symphony are superbly caught here, ideally 'placed' within the spacious aural picture. I also approve of the perfect pacing of the Adagio espressivo, touching in its simplicity. The same applies to the famous Cologne Cathedral-inspired slow movement of the Rhenish, marked Feierlich ('spiritual') and described by one critic as the composer's 'most majestic orchestral tone poem'.
In fact the Rhenish perhaps benefits most from the high-resolution mastering, as its opening Lebhaft movement explodes with near-ideal clarity and warmth. The whole performance is one I have loved for many years and it was wonderful to hear it again sounding as fresh as it must have done in Dresden during those first two weeks in September 1972.