Symphony no. 2 in C op. 61; Konzertstück in F op. 86 for four horns and orchestra

Chicago SO/Barenboim


Schumann's op.86 was no doubt designed to exploit and display the capacities of the valve horn, at the suggestion of virtuoso friends and colleagues. Bu surface explanations are unlikely to illuminate the inward Schumann; what of his covert thoughts or perhaps even underground activities? In 1849 his mind was afire with fervour for the people's awakening to national socialism, in small capitals (such as Dresden, for example). Other horn pieces and passages were inspired by the verses of Heinrich Laube, a proscribed propagandist of the Jung Deutschland movement. This performance brilliantly conveys the clarion-call imagery of Pan-German idealism. And it was a bright idea to couple the C major symphony, with its analogous expressions of personal aspiration. But here the performance seems to me signally less impressive. To judge from Schumann's own testimony, the symphony's symbolism suggests a call to take arms against the sea of troubles that was then beating on his domestic front. The elated excitement of the social Schumann is vividly realized, especially in the outer movements; but some of the vital inwardness has become extraverted in the process. Thus the main scherzo theme sounds too fast even for the virtuoso playing and conducting, and the rallentandos are ungainly. The portrait-painting of the slow movement has too square a rhythmic frame, and some of the detail is blurred; for example the soaring violin trills (which gave Brahms a beatific vision of Clara) are surely intended as expressive melodic flights, not just background twitter. But on any assessment Schumannians will want this record for its superlative account of the all too rarely heard Konzertstück.    


The Musical Times, Jan. 1979 © the estate of eric sams