Symphony no. 3; Overture The Bride of Messina (LPO/Muti)
Riccardo Muti continues his programme of Schumann renovation by rubbing away at the darkened varnish of tradition. More power to his elbow, which certainly lends fine support to The Bride of Messina, making that jaded old piece surprisingly radiant. In the “Rhenish” Symphony however what really matters is width of perspective, expanse of landscape; so this performance remains just one view among others, and arguably not the most advantageous. Muti's transpicuous clarity of mood and texture sometimes works wonders, as in the splendid A major splash of colour, among the river's slow movement at bar 49 etc. But Schumann's scoring is mainly far more sombre and subfusc, as in the church interior scene of the fourth movement, and the brightness tends to pall. Again, even without keeping a stop-watch on the Rhine, one can hear that the tempos and structure are not always as broad or heavy as the river and cathedral imagery requires. Finally not all the details are closely enough observed. Thus the dynamic contrasts at bar 185 of the first movement sound rather too tame, while the descending E fiat minor triad at the end of the fourth, though surely just as motivic here as in Manfred, remains sadly inaudible. So the reading as a whole, though valuable as a salutary corrective to more ponderous interpretations, still strikes me as rather unidiomatically lightweight.
The Musical Times, Feb., 1980 (p. 112) © the estate of eric sams