Symphony no. 2 in C, op. 61; Overture, Julius Caesar, op. 128 (Vienna PO/Solti)



Schumann suggested that this symphony embodied his resistance to a nervous attack. The motto­theme is heard as a proclamation calling out his reserves; finally the trumpet-calls signal the deliverance of a latter-day Florestan. They awake many other echoes of Beethoven, as well as Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Weber, Mendelssohn, even Wagner. But if music was Schumann's rampart, it was not his only one. In marshalling his forces behind it, he would also count his blessings - as he called his family. Psychiatrists assert (paradoxically, perhaps) that children help to keep one sane. The scherzo's scampering semiquavers run through many another musical party game - Haschemann, Versteckens, Kindergesellschaft, Ringelreihe - all sounding like a knee-high perpetuum mobile. The domestic cherubs would naturally look up to the angel in the house; and the Adagio suggests a portrait of Clara drawn in adoring melodic lines and coloured by a Romantic imagery of soaring and trilling high in the blue. Some performances suggest Raphael; others, Raphael Tuck.

    And thisillustrates the main problem: how to convey all the due tension without undue stress. All those varied patterns or pictures are demonstrably composed of the same basic mosaic units throughout, absolute music as well as expressive language; so they need interpretation in both senses. This closely-knit Sinfonia Domesticais merely drab unless hearth and home are made to glow with fire and life.

    I think Solti and the VPO perform this Promethean task with immense vigour and strength. But this is arguably sometimes a weakness, especially in the scherzo, which (whether or not it implies child's play) should neither sound difficult nor suggest an undignified scramble. Again, its ubiquitous cuckoo­calls may be just wandering voices, but need they be blown away in the woodwind quite as they are here (bars 24-32 etc)? We are surely meant to hear them, and rejoice. Elsewhere the playing is more appropriately large-scale and earnest; virile or tender, tense or reassured, as the mood requires. The last two movements are especially impressive.

    The overture Julius Caesarstrikes me as relevant to Shakespeare in only two respects, or rather disrespects. It has much less poetry than other works; and it suggests a struggle for power. I think it loses on both counts, and I doubt if the record gains much by the addition. But it certainly gains by the thoughtful cover picture and design, and by Paul Hamburger's exemplary sleeve-note.


The Musical Times, Apr. 1971 © the estate of eric sams