This live Berlin recording is the second time Harnoncourt recorded the Schubert and Schumann 4th symphonies. The Schubert had been recorded along with the rest of the symphonies on a accolade-winning set with the Concertgebouw, the Schumann with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Harnoncourt is known for his rethinking, but here he proves that he rethinks his own ideas. While some aspects of his interpretations remain fundamentally the same, it's amazing how different he sounds in Berlin.
The earlier recordings were intimate and almost chamber-like. In Berlin, we're in for an evening of overpowering drama and big sound that is completely romantic. I'm reminded of Karajan's concentration, only Harnoncourt is far more sensitive than Karajan ever was. Anyone who doubts the Berlin Phil's superiority in German music would find it hard to deny the expressive power of these musicians, who play with an authority that's dizzying. Yet it's clear they're being led by the most committed maestro. Abbado never produced sounds nearly so bold and thick.
Yet in some ways Harnoncourt remains the same as in his earlier recordings. He's still fundamentally a deep thinker, searching for more than immediate impact. As overwhelming as the overall sound is, Harnoncourt still finds an inexhaustible supply of lyricism. He's no literalist--far from it. For me, he's a conductor with few peers when it comes to this repertoire. There's cohesive vision, a definite German sound, richness and depth, yet no immobility. We can take our time without the pulse dragging.
Should the buyer go for this recording or the earlier ones? I think he should get both, especially since the earlier recordings come along with symphonies not included here. But if I could keep only one of Harnoncourt's interpretations of these symphonies, this live disc from Berlin would probably win the day.