Schumann's symphonies have persistently been plagued by indifferent audiences, bewildered performers, wrong-headed judgments and chronological confusion. The First, Op. 38, called "Spring" for its buoyancy, vigour and exuberance, was written in 1841, as was the next; however, substantially revised in 1852, this is now known as No. 4 Op. 120. (Though rarely performed, the original version is well worth hearing.) The symphony known as the Second, Op. 61, was begun in 1845, laid aside for health reasons and finished the following year. No. 3, Op. 97, the "Rhenish," is perhaps the most popular; written in 1850, it evokes the Rhine, the "sacred river" Schumann loved, celebrated in song, and finally turned to for deliverance from unendurable despair. Although loyal to his classical roots, Schumann gave his innovative originality free rein in the last two symphonies: the Third has five movements, the thematically cyclical Fourth is played without a break, and he discarded the traditional Italian tempo markings for German ones.
The performances recorded here should dispel the hoary fallacy that Schumann was a miniaturist incapable of handling large forms and inept at orchestration. The Staatskapelle, Berlin's oldest orchestra, has these symphonies in its bloodstream; as the Opera's pit band, its glorious sound is undoubtedly influenced by working with singers: free of sharp edges and attacks, sustained, warm, and mellow. Barenboim, its Music Director since 1992, approaches the symphonies with profound intellectual understanding and emotional affinity, combining a sense of structure, coherence, irresistible sweep and grandeur with loving attention to expressive detail. Carefully balancing sonorities, he brings out usually hidden lines and voices, proving that Schumann's orchestration, often called turgid, is in fact transparent and full of colour. The first symphony's triumphant opening fanfare immediately takes us deep into Schumann's world of ardent, poetic romanticism, spontaneous imagination, mercurial mood changes: the sometimes gracious, sometimes ominous, spooky Scherzos, the vivacious, jubilant corner movements, the achingly beautiful slow ones. This is an indispensable record. --Edith Eisler
Daniel Barenboim has been General Music Director of the Staatskapelle Berlin since 1992 and its Chief Conductor for Life since 2003. In 2003, Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin won a Grammy for their recording of Wagner’s Tannhäuser on Warner Classics’ Teldec label (8573-88064-2). They were also awarded the Wilhelm Furtwängler Prize for excellence in the field of classical music. When Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin performed the four Schumann symphonies in Berlin prior to recording them for Warner Classics, Die Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote; “Daniel Barenboim shone with his Orchestra, to which he is deeply attached… The Staatskapelle is extremely flexible; they play the four Schumann symphonies with great emotion, big tone and melodic strength. [Barenboim] gives his all in his commitment, passion and musical intelligence.”