"What an embarrassment of riches: this older set, remastered in fine shape as part of the EMI Great Performances series has been a catalogue star since its first appearances. But wait, there is more. Sawallisch has re-recorded these symphonies with the Philadelphia Orchestra, showing off not only his leadership, but the fine mettle of the PO (post-Ormandy, post-Muti), and the sonics of the new Verizon Hall. It's a difficult choice, between the older set and the newer one. One plus of the older set is that it features the Dresden Staatskapelle, certainly one of Europe's finest and most distinguished orchestras. Dresden need yield no pride of place to anybody. They have a depth of tone in all instrumental departments that is only typically rivaled by the Vienna Philharmonic; combined with an incisiveness of musical gesture and transparent golden glow that typically serves the music well, almost no matter what they are playing. Part of the older set's allure has no doubt to do with the hallowed recording venue of the Luskaskirche which simply must be one of the best acoustics for European recording. The newer set, on the other hand, captures Sawallisch and the Philadephia Orchestra live (complete with audience applause). One must say that they retain their reputation as a top American band, somehow managing to combine the lushness of the Ormandy heritage with a chamber-ensemble finesse. Such flexibility serves Schumann's symphonies very well, since at times it would appear that the composer was establishing a sweet intimacy as well as dramatic breadth in these formerly neglected orchestral step-children.Now, also, do not forget that David Zinman has just recorded a complete set with members of the Tonhalle Zurich, bringing an awareness of period performance textures, dynamism, and style to these works, even though he is manifestly not playing on period instruments (like Gardiner).Truth be told, you cannot go far wrong with any of these sets: The older Sawallisch, the newer Sawallisch (available only direct from the Philadelphia Orchestra website), the newer Zinman/Tonhalle. I have made room on the shelf, too, for the Karajan and Haitink recordings. The Royal Concertgebouw brings its own high Romanticism to the Haitink set, and has the benefit of that great hall acoustic in their home venue. Finally, it would appear that BMG is finally re-releasing the James Levine/Philadelphia recordings, of which only symphonies 2 and 4 are so far available.Less often, I return to the Szell, and the Bernstein/Vienna sets. The Szell is very well done, but as with many conductors, Szell found occasion to fuss about with the original orchestrations. If you want alternative orchestrations of the Schumann, why not turn to the Aldo Ceccato set on BIS, where he gives us the re-touched instrumentations of no less a personage than Gustav Mahler. I usually can't take more than one of the Bernstein/Vienna symphonies at a time, so fullsome and rich and high-calorie are those performances.The older Sawallisch, and the newer Sawallisch, then, get five stars. And if you have found the symphonies too thick, too earthbound over the years, do have a listen to the new Zinman/Tonhalle. It will make you rethink all the traditional complaints, and you get more than a whiff of the manic side of Robert, dancing wildly off into the stars with his beloved Clara."
Dan Fee | 08/29/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After I had enjoyed von Karajan, Bernstein (his second set), Szell, Muti, Gardiner and Zinman, and Barenboim as well, I discovered Sawallisch's set of the Schumann symphonies. What distinguishes these performances is their emotional strength and authenticity. Turning to this music is like turning to an old and trusted friend - or lover. The music is rich, lush and romantic. New details appear, starting with the first movement of the First symphony. There are touches now in drums, then brass and strings that are newly realized but naturally interwoven, which make each piece a delight in some way never before fully appreciated. This is gorgeous stuff. I feel I am enjoying the symphonies almost for the first time. The performance of Schumann is endlessly challenging, whether of the myriad (hauntingly lovely) solo piano works, the chamber pieces or the symphonic repertoire. Sawallisch rises to the occasion, realizing possibilities that were latent or only faintly adumbrated in other versions. Gardiner and von Karajan bring their own excitement and artistic vision to these works, and Gardiner's set is in its own class because of the other pieces he features, such as the "Zwickau" symphony and the Konzertstuck for Four Horns. But for sheer emotional power and authenticity, unity of vision and even voluptuousness, Sawallisch's set is far and away the most satisfying. The Dresden State Orchestra is a phenomenally fine instrument and effortlessly responds to and embraces Sawallisch's interpretations. They turned in a gorgeous performance some years ago of the Brahms Third with Claudio Abbado on a DGG set with a different European orchestra performing each symphony. They are clear, strong without being overbearing, accomplished and sweet-sounding. The sound on these discs is very fine, considering that the recordings (from the 1970's) have been remastered.
It is important to note that I have only heard the 3d and 4th symphonies in the set Bernstein made decades ago with the New York Philharmonic. These are exceptional for the sheer propulsive energy, enthusiasm and joie de vivre they convey. I wish the entire set were available. If you can get Bernstein's recording of the third, I would do so. It is not to be forgotten.
N.B: Sawallisch has recorded all four symphonies again with the Philadelphia Orchestra at its new home in Verizon Hall. These are part of a 3-CD set, all devoted to music by Robert and Clara Schumann. While the performances are generally up to Sawallisch's standards, they are not as coherent as on the set under review here; the sound is also decidedly problematic. This set remains absolutely the finest. I am invariably taken aback every time I play these by how truly rewarding they are."
Still Regarded By Many As The Definitive Schumann Symphony C
John Kwok | New York, NY USA | 05/17/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Many music critics, including those writing for the esteemed Penguin Guide to Classics, have observed that Wolfgang Sawallisch's early 1970s Schumann symphony cycle with the Dresden Staatskapelle simply has no peer. One of the obvious reasons is the superb acoustics of the Dresden Staatskapelle's long-time recording studio, Dresden's Lukaskirche, which has been recognized for a long time as among Europe's finest. Yet another reason is the glorious sound of the Dresden Staatskapelle itself, which has a distinctively vibrant, warm sound that is quite similar to the Wiener Philharmoniker's. But I suspect the most obvious reason remains Wolfgang Sawallisch's passionate interpretations, which are distinctively poles apart from more exuberant interpretations from the likes of Sinopoli and Bernstein, and the relatively austere ones offered from Szell. Without question, the two symphonic highlights of Sawallisch's Dresden cycle have to be the recordings of the 2nd and 3rd symphonies; the latter especially is among the most vibrant interpretations of Schumann's "Rhenish" symphony. While I have had the pleasure of hearing Sawallish conduct the entire Schumann symphony cycle live at Carnegie Hall - around the time his latest Schumann cycle with the Philadelphia Orchestra was issued - I can't possibly think of a more exciting, emotionally riveting set of performances than his early 1970s cycle with the Dresden Staatskapelle."
Should Schumann be played like Mendelssohn?
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 05/21/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Thanks to decades of sponsorship by The Gramopnone, Sawallisch's 1972 Schumann cycle from Dresden achieved legendary status. EMI took its time releasing the performances on to CD, however, and this 2002 remastering was the first time I saw them cheaply available. I'm impressed, wtihin limits. If you think of Schumann as a restrained Romantic with one foot in the classical era--like Mendelsoohn in love--then Sawallisch's well-trimmed, even-tempered readings will be satisfying. The Dresden orchestra plays beaautifully; the recording, though a bit distant, sounds fine.
But I grew up on Bernstein's all-out romanticism, displayed in his Sixties Schumann cycle from NY on Sony. Those were galvanizing readings that placed Schumman in the turbulent waters of Beethoven and Wagner, where I think he belongs. Other grandly passionate cycles over the years include Bernstein's second one from Vienna, both of Levine's from Chicago and Berlin, Karajan's, also with the Berlin Phil., and Klemperer's with the Philharmonia. The cooler classical ccyles include Masur, Kubelik, and Szell. They seem to earn a lot more reccommendations from critics than the grand ones, but for what reason I don't know."
Ist movement of the Rhenish is a tsunami of joy and exuberan
Peter Heddon | 06/10/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"An exhilirating cycle.Compare Sawallisch with Bernstein/vpo in the famous opening of the 'Rhenish' and the latter seems rather gloopy and undifferentiated.The last movemnt of no.2 is one of my favourites and here there's a dance like quality which immediately captures ones attention. This cycle yields nothing to Bernstain in passionate intensity and has the added benefit of the unique horn section of the Dresden Statskapelle (very important in Schumann)"