What a frustrating artist Jarvi has become. While his first outings with his chamber orchestra in Strauss, Stravinsky, and Beethoven were so thrilling, his latest efforts are decidedly disappointing. The impetus behind this sea change, unfortunately, is one that afflicts so many talented artists - Jarvi simply cannot tell his good ideas from the bad.
The is good find itself in most of this release. The Bremen players, for one, are nothing short of world class and offer idiomatic and exciting commentary on these works. Jarvi also has much to say in this music, nearly all of it good. His handling of the developmental climax in the allegro is textbook on how to handle Schumann's gnarly orchestration, the woodwind balances in the trio of the scherzo are sublime, and the bouncy finale never becomes bombastic. In those respects, this is first-rate Schumann.
The problem lies with Jarvi's need to fiddle with the music. The most glaring and problematic example is his handling of the allegro's development section. At the conclusion of the reworked secondary theme, Schumann has the strings and winds tossing about a three-note call and answer. Jarvi's "interpretation" here is to insert tiny hesitations before each phrase. This "idea" adds nothing to the musical framework and certainly fails to highlight anything in the score. What results is essentially a train wreck. Tension falls apart, momentum is destroyed, and the excitement disappears. It is all the more frustrating because Jarvi's quick tempo and excellent ensemble work up to that point was really something special.
I hate that Jarvi has lost track of the traits that made his Beethoven so exciting - quick tempos, no rubatto, and a focus on structure. Certainly worth exploring if you have been collecting the cycle to-date, but those looking for perfect ensemble balance married to an exciting interpretation need look no further than Szell or Dohnanyi, who offer all the textual clarity and balance of Jarvi married to interpretation of incomparable magnitude.