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Joyful and Celebratory

Schumann and Strauss from Sinfonia Viva
enjoyed by MIKE WHEELER


Was Schumann too hard on his first attempt at a symphony -- the so-called 'Zwickau' Symphony in G minor? From the increasing amount of attention it has been getting recently it would certainly appear so. Now that the old chestnut about him not being able to organise his thinking symphonically is being laid to rest, along with the claim that his orchestration is no more than competent at best, this early work (or at least the two movements that he completed) is due for a re-evaluation.

As this sterling performance from Sinfonia Viva and Principal Conductor André de Ridder showed (Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, UK, 19 February 2008), Schumann -- even at this early stage -- not only knew how to put a symphony together, but was already forming his own ideas, in spite of some obvious debts to Beethoven. The transition to the central scherzo section in the second movement was a particular delight, with Viva bringing out all the music's delectable lightness and fantasy.

Where Schumann's G minor Symphony has begun to come in from the cold, the original version of his 4th Symphony in D minor is almost becoming standard repertoire. Brahms' preference for its lighter orchestration, compared with the more familiar 1851 score, was certainly vindicated (in spite of occasional balance problems in the first movement), but it was an outstanding performance, whichever version was being played. The delicate, subtle shadings brought out in the second movement were boldly contrasted with an unexpectedly brisk tempo for the scherzo, highlighting its ancestry in Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The link with the finale may be less smooth here than in the 1851 revision, but it was compellingly handled, and the finale itself was fittingly joyful and celebratory.

In between the Schumann works, David Pyatt joined the orchestra for a winning account of Strauss' Second Horn concerto. Soloist and orchestra relished their chamber music-like interplay in the first movement and there were some delectable woodwind solos in this and the second movement. The finale's teasing humour was nicely judged, and there was a lovely warm glow over the whole performance.

Copyright © 3 March 2008 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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