Symphony no. 2 op 61; Overture, Hermann und Dorothea op 136 (Muti)
Philharmonia/ Muti; HMV
Schumann's symphonies need to be heard in strongly contrasting interpretations if their full musical meaning is to become manifest. Their brilliant cerebral construction can be hard to reconcile with their hidden expressive significance; sometimes one can't hear the mastery for the mystery, or conversely. This performance looks determinedly on the bright side, and so finds highlights quite different from those of the German tradition. Here the last movement sounds engagingly Italian; justifiably, in view of its Mendelssohnian theme. Again, the semitonal passages of the first movement, bars 134 et seq, are made to sob and groan most pitiably, as if this were a battle symphony with cries of the wounded. But in a sense so it is, and the point is by no means invalid. However, the domestic symphony images of love and devotion are much less clearly reflected. Thus there is no notion that the brass of the introduction is supposed to shine out symbolically over the dark lower strings. The Adagio is miles away from its Schumannian tempo, which is (however surprisingly) much faster. There is no hint that its mid-section is an evocation of Bach, despite the helpful signposts offered by the retrograde forms of that famous theme (oboes and cellos, bars 56-8). In general this ebulliently extraverted performance turns the music innig-side out - as further amply evidenced in op.136, the trivial aspects of which are thereby remorselessly exposed. But the interior symphonic details have already been faithfully recorded elsewhere, notably by Klemperer; and the reminder that Schumann also has an outer surface is quite salutary.
The Musical Times, Jul. 1979 (p. 581) © the estate of eric sams